Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Eve in St. Peter's Basilica

The Associated Press
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Islanders attend evening church services while celebrating Christmas Eve

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica as Catholic faithful joyfully recall the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.

Children were at the heart of this celebration. Some youngsters invited to attend came from countries that Francis has visited as pontiff. The youngsters left floral bouquets around a baby Jesus statue near the central altar after Francis unveiled and gently kissed the statue.

The basilica's bells rang at the start of Thursday's late-night ceremony, which is Francis' only public mass  during Christmas Eve celebrations.  

On Friday, tens of thousands of people are expected to flock to St. Peter's Square outside the basilica to hear the pontiff deliver his Christmas Day message at noon (1100 GMT, 6 a.m. EST).  

Meanwhile, across Prince Edward Island Christmas Eve was celebrated with church services and family gatherings while the children anxiously awaited for the sounds of Santa's arrival.

Geographic location: VATICAN CITY, Bethlehem, Prince Edward Island Christmas Eve

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