VATICAN CITY — Tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square this morning for Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas Day talk and blessing “urbi et orbi” (“to the city and the world”).

Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope said Jesus “is the hand that God extends” to humanity, which is afraid, uncertain and troubled. All people have to do, he said, is stretch out their hands and ask for help.

He offered special prayers for people who are suffering from natural disasters, war or political instability and tensions, including in the Holy Land, where Christ “chose to come into the world.”

Under a deep blue, sunny sky, the crowd that flocked to the square enjoyed the music of military bands while waiting for the pope and pressed around the Nativity scene in the center of the square.

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VATICAN CITY - When young people recognize the dignity and beauty of every human life, including their own, and are supported in their natural desire to make the world a better place, they become agents of justice and peace in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Peace and justice are built on “a profound respect for every human being and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity,” the Pope said in his message for the World Day of Peace 2012.

The Catholic Church celebrates World Peace Day Jan. 1. The Pope’s message for the occasion was released Dec. 16 at the Vatican and sent, through Vatican ambassadors, to the leaders of nations around the world.

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VATICAN CITY - Knowing one is loved by God gives life meaning and gives one the energy needed to carry on with joy, even in difficult personal or societal situations, Pope Benedict XVI told top Vatican officials.

Meeting members of the Roman Curia Dec. 22 for his annual exchange of Christmas greetings, the pope said the "faith fatigue" seen in various areas of church life contrasts sharply with the faith and joy he witnessed during World Youth Day in Madrid and during his November trip to Benin.

The two trips, he said, hold lessons for church leaders and for the faithful.

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The Catholic News Service, which provides The Register with Vatican reports and international news, has named Pope Benedict XVI the top newsmaker of 2011.  There is no disputing that  Benedict dominated Catholic headlines as he passed his fifth anniversary as pontiff with another year of tireless service and faithful ministry. But in terms of a Catholic person of the year we respectfully nominate the Pakistan martyr Shahbaz Bhatti.

Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minorities, was ambushed on his doorstep on March 2 because he lived openly as a Catholic in a hostile anti-Christian environment. He died because following in Christ’s footsteps compelled him to denounce his country’s detestable blasphemy laws and defend a Christian woman condemned to death on trumped-up blasphemy charges.

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VATICAN CITY - New evangelization is not an abstract idea to pitch, but rather a call to authentically live the Gospel message, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Christian faith provides a surer basis for life than the secular vision; for 'it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear,'" he said quoting from "Gaudium et Spes," the Second Vatican Council document on the church and society.

The pope was speaking Dec. 17 to bishops from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands who were making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican.

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ROME - Pope Benedict XVI told inmates at a Rome prison that people say nasty things about him, too, but it's important to remember that there are other people ready to offer their love and support.

During a visit Dec. 18 to Rome's Rebibbia prison, the pope gave a short speech and then responded to questions from six of the inmates gathered in the prison's Church of Our Father.

Federico, an inmate from the prison infirmary, which includes men who are HIV positive, told the pope that people say "ferocious things" about the inmates. "We have fallen and hurt people," he told the pope. "We have lost our freedom, but we ask you to help ensure we don't lose our dignity."

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WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba in the spring will have multiple layers of meaning for the church and for Cuban society, said a U.S. archbishop who pays close attention to Cuba.

The pope will go there as a symbol of peace and hope, as a pilgrim participating in "a springtime of faith," and as part of the church's efforts at creating the climate for a "soft landing" for the country to come out from under 50 years of communist rule, said Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski in a Dec. 14 interview with Catholic News Service.

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VATICAN CITY - When young people recognize the dignity and beauty of every human life, including their own, and are supported in their natural desire to make the world a better place, they become agents of justice and peace in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Peace and justice are built on "a profound respect for every human being and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity," the pope said in his message for the World Day of Peace 2012.

The Catholic Church celebrates World Peace Day Jan. 1. The pope's message for the occasion was released Dec. 16 at the Vatican and sent, through Vatican ambassadors, to the leaders of nations around the world.

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TORONTO - For Gérard Byamungu, the most memorable part of the Third World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students in Rome was meeting the Pope.

“It was a gesture of appreciating what we do as international students,” said Byamungu, an international student studying at Toronto’s Ryerson University on shaking hands with Pope Benedict XVI. “I was very happy that I had the chance to meet him and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

While all delegates had an audience with the Pope, only select participants had the opportunity to shake his hand.

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HAVANA - The Cuban bishops announced that 2012 would be a Marian jubilee year and that Pope Benedict XVI would come to Cuba as a "pilgrim of La Caridad," the popular name for the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the country's patroness.

In a Dec. 8 pastoral letter, they declared a jubilee year from Jan. 7, 2012, through Jan. 6, 2013, and said Cubans need the joy of faith, the strength of Christian love and the light of hope that can come from "a reunion with our Christian roots" and with the "enthusiastic reception of the teachings of Jesus Christ."

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VATICAN CITY - The Catholic Church's project of "new evangelization" faces two dangers: people thinking others will do the work and people so fired up to preach the Gospel, they forget to pray, said the preacher of the papal household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who preaches to the pope and top Vatican officials on the Fridays of Advent and Lent, dedicated his December 2011 series to lessons the church can learn from its own history of evangelization efforts.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI tapped a tablet computer and successfully lit the world's largest electronic Christmas "tree" located in the Italian town of Gubbio.

Before turning on the tree with a tap on the Sony S Tablet, the pope addressed the citizens of Gubbio via a video link from his apartment in Vatican City Dec. 7, calling on Christians to serve as a light in the lives of others.

In his talk, the pope said that just as the tree design in Gubbio was made up of tiny individual lights, each person needs to bring light to the people and places in their lives, to their family, workplace, neighborhood, town or city.

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ROME - The church should fear the sin of its own members more than hatred against Christians, Pope Benedict XVI said.

While the church has suffered from persecution throughout its history, it "is supported by the light and strength of God" and will always end up victorious, he said.

Overcoming trials and outside threats shows how the Christian community "is the presence, the guarantee of God's love against all ideologies of hatred and selfishness," he said on the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8.

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HONG KONG - A year after Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to mainland Chinese Catholics, and on the eve of Beijing hosting the Olympic Games, Chinese church leaders said some positive developments have resulted but more work needs to be done to achieve the letter’s objectives.

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SYDNEY, Australia - In the longest-lasting and longest-distance trip of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to Australians and to young people from around the world about God's plan for all creation, but especially for people.

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