Pope Benedict XVI has called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in his traditional Christmas Day message.

Benedict on Sunday 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, where thousands of jubilant tourists and pilgrims and hundreds of colorful Swiss Guards gathered.

The 84-year-old pope, fresh off a late-night Christmas Eve Mass, said he prayed that the birth of Jesus celebrated at Christmas 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.

In Bethlehem, hundreds of Christian faithful have filled the ancient church that marks Jesus' traditional birthplace for Christmas Mass, undeterred by pouring rain and harsh winds.

Worshippers on Sunday rushed into the Church of the Nativity under the cover of umbrellas, leaving Manger Square, with its 50-foot-tall (15-meter-tall) Christmas tree, deserted.

Inside the bustling church, supplicants -- many of them foreign -- raised their voices in prayer, kissed a plaster statue of Baby Jesus and took communion.

On Christmas Eve, the turnout in Bethlehem was at its highest since a violent uprising against Israel drove away tourism more than a decade ago.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)