By Nicole Winfield/The Associated Press
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in his Christmas message Sunday, an appeal for peace that was challenged by deadly attacks on two Nigerian churches.
Benedict delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” speech (Latin for “to the city and to the world”) from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica overlooking a sun-drenched piazza below, before thousands of jubilant tourists and pilgrims, and hundreds of colorful Swiss Guards and Italian military bands.
The 84-year-old pope, fresh off a late-night Christmas Eve Mass, said he prayed that the birth of Jesus, which Christmas celebrates, would send a message to all who need to be saved from hardships.
He cited refugees from the Horn of Africa and flood victims in Thailand, among others, and called for greater political dialogue in Myanmar, and stability in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa’s Great Lakes region.
He said he prayed that God would help the Israelis and the Palestinians resume talks.
“May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed,” he said.
The pope didn’t mention the attacks on churches in Nigeria. Early Sunday, an explosion ripped through a Catholic church during Christmas Mass near Nigeria’s capital Abuja, killing at least 10 people. A second explosion struck near a church in Nigeria’s restive central city of Jos.
There was no immediately claim of responsibility for either explosion, but Nigeria has suffered a wave of sectarian attacks blamed on a radical Muslim sect known as Boko Haram.
The Vatican press office noted that Benedict’s speech was prepared well in advance of the attacks.
After the speech, Benedict delivered Christmas greetings in 65 different languages, from Mongolian to Maori, Aramaic to Albanian, Tamil to Thai. He finished the list with Guarani and Latin, as the bells tolled from St. Peter’s enormous bell towers.