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Associated Press
Pope Benedict XVI is helped by his aide Guido Marini as he arrives for his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the City and to the World) speech from the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011. 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. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI issued pleas for peace to reign across the world during his traditional Christmas address Sunday, a call marred by Muslim extremists who bombed a Catholic church in Nigeria, striking after worshippers celebrated Mass.

The assault on the Catholic church left 35 dead in Madalla, near the Nigerian capital. A failed bombing also occurred near a church in the city of Jos, followed by a shooting that killed a police officer. The blast came a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombs in Jos claimed by Islamist militants killed 32.

Benedict didn't refer explicitly to the Nigerian bombings in his "Urbi et Orbi" speech, Latin for "to the city and to the world" in which he raises alarm about world hotspots. But in a statement, the Vatican called the attacks a sign of "cruelty and absurd, blind hatred" that shows no respect for human life.

Elsewhere, Christmas was celebrated with the typical joy of the season: In Cuba, Catholics had plenty to cheer as they prepared for Benedict's March arrival, the first visit by a pontiff to the Communist-run island since John Paul II's historic tour nearly 14 years ago.

"We have faith in God that we will be allowed to have this treat," said Rogelio Montes de Oca, 72, as he stood outside the Cathedral in Old Havana. "Not every country will have the chance to see him physically and receive his blessing."

And in the Holy Land, pilgrims and locals alike flocked to Jesus' traditional birthplace in numbers not seen since before the Palestinian uprising over a decade ago, despite lashing rains and wind.

"We wanted to be part of the action," said Don Moore, 41, a psychology professor from Berkeley, California, who came to Bethlehem with his family. "This is the place, this is where it all started. It doesn't get any more special than that."