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Christmas celebrations from across the world

By the CNN Wires Staff
  • The pope prays for peace
  • In Bethlehem, thousands flock to the town where Jesus is believed to have been born
  • Parishioners gather in China to have Christmas Mass

(CNN) -- As Christmas Eve became Christmas Day around the world, services and celebrations marked the holiday.

At Vatican City on Friday night, Catholic worshippers packed pews inside St. Peter's Basilica to hear Pope Benedict XVI deliver Midnight Mass. He prayed to God for peace.

"Grant us the grace of true brotherhood. Help us to become like you. Help us to recognize your face in others who need our assistance," he said. "And help us to live together with you as brothers and sisters so as to become one family -- your family."

Celebrants, both young and old, watched in reverence as the choir serenaded the pontiff during his ceremonial march into the church. He was led into St. Peter's for Christmas Eve services by 30 cardinals, a tradition that was started by Pope John Paul II.

Bells rang out during the Holy Eucharistic, with chimes that could be heard inside the church as well as throughout Vatican City.

In 2009, Midnight Mass was interrupted when 25-year-old Susanna Maiolo jumped a barrier and knocked the pontiff down. She had tried to get to the pontiff on Christmas Eve in 2008, but was detained, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

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Christmas Eve Mass was held at 10 p.m last year, so the pope, who was 82 years old at the time, would be well-rested for Christmas Day services.

Thousands converged Friday on Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas in the town where Jesus is believed to have been born, joining the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, and a Roman Catholic archbishop for Midnight Mass.

Twal, the highest-ranking Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, led a procession of priests and believers to the Church of the Nativity for the traditional service.

Pilgrims, many of whom visit the city every year at this time, packed Manger Square outside the church in anticipation of the patriarch's arrival.

"When we come, we are saying not only, yes Jesus, we are here; we are all Christian, we are all brothers," one tourist in the crowd outside the Nativity Church told CNN.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas, Muslims, traveled to Bethlehem to attend the Mass.

At least 90,000 tourists are expected to visit the city by the end of the Christmas season, according to Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh.

The city is near the high wall that forms part of Israel's West Bank barrier.

In 1948, Christians represented 80% of the Bethlehem's population, that number is now just 35%.

Inside Beijing's Immaculate Conception Cathedral, more than 1,000 Chinese parishioners gathered to say Mass on Friday.

The ceremony was heralded by hymns and Christmas carols, and was led by a young priest who asked the congregation to "pray for the holy father, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Chinese bishops."

It's a stark change from the 1960s and '70s, when religion was suppressed in China. Now, the sights and sounds of Christmas are all around, making it one of the biggest commercial holiday seasons in Chinese cities.

While many Chinese are taking advantage of the lucrative side of the season, others are searching for the meaning of Christmas.

"My parents are Catholic," said 19-year-old Joseph Min. He said many youths are lost in the nation's "wave of social changes," but many are "seeking a kind of religion or philosophy in life."

China has become home to more than 6 million Catholics, according to a report approved at the eighth National Congress of Chinese Catholics in early December, the China Daily said.

Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951, but efforts are reportedly under way to reconcile their differences.

CNN's Paula Hancock and Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.