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Pope urges peace as attacks hit Christians

Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians to remain strong in the face of intolerance and violence in a New Year's appeal Saturday that came hours after a bomb blast outside an Egyptian church killed 21 people as worshippers left Mass.

The pope condemned a widening campaign against Christians in the Middle East in his homily at St. Peter's Basilica.

"In the face of the threatening tensions of the moment, especially in the face of discrimination, of abuse of power and religious intolerance that today particularly strikes Christians, I again direct a pressing invitation not to yield to discouragement and resignation," he said.

Benedict cited what he called two negative extremes: secularism, "pushing religion to the margins to confine it to the private sphere," and "fundamentalism, which instead would like to impose [religion] with force on all."

The Vatican celebrates New Year's as World Peace Day, and Benedict urged world leaders to make a "concrete and constant commitment" to help bring peace. Later, the pope greeted from his apartment window pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square. The new year, he said, is an opportunity to reflect "on the great challenges that our epoch poses to humanity," calling the threats to religious freedom urgent.

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