Pope John Paul II led prayers for peace and a more tranquil future, pilgrims flocked to Bethlehem and Iraqis stayed away from church for fear of bomb attacks as Christians around the world celebrated Christmas over the weekend.
In his Christmas message, delivered in chilly, rainy Vatican City, John Paul shared his fears about the violence in Iraq, Sudan and other hot spots, and hoped peace efforts would bring a brighter future.
Thousands, many cheering and waving flags, gathered in St Peter’s Square to hear his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" - Latin for "to the city and to the world" - message and holiday wishes, issued in dozens of languages.
"Babe of Bethlehem, Prophet of Peace, encourage attempts to promote dialogue and reconciliation," he prayed.
"Sustain the efforts to build peace, which hesitantly, yet not without hope, are being made to bring about a more tranquil present and future for so many of our brothers and sisters of the world."
The Pope said people were yearning for peace everywhere around the world and expressed particular concern for Iraq, the Middle East and Africa.
"I think of Africa, of the tragedy of Darfur in Sudan, of the Ivory Coast and the Great Lakes Region.
"With great apprehension I follow the situation in Iraq. And how can I fail to look with anxious concern, but also invincible confidence, towards that Land of which you are a son?"
In his Christmas sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury condemned developed nations for appearing "deeply indifferent" to the plight of the world’s poorest people.
Dr Rowan Williams told the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral that rich countries were wrong to be more interested in combating terrorism than eliminating poverty.
He also expressed concern that "justice and liberty" were being sacrificed in favour of security.
In Bethlehem, a thaw in Israeli-Palestinian relations drew several thousand pilgrims to the traditional birthplace of Jesus, but numbers were well below those of the 1990s.
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the senior Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, called on Israelis and Palestinians to put violence behind them. Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas attended the service - a change from previous years, when Israel prevented Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from going to Christmas celebrations.
Christians in other areas were cautious as they attended services.
In Iraq, only a few celebrated Mass in Baghdad’s churches because of fears of Islamic militant attacks.
In Indonesia, Christians celebrated Christmas amid warnings that terrorists linked to al Qaeda planned attacks. Christian minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh also celebrated with police on alert.