Pope leads a packed Christmas Eve Mass

Associated Press
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In this photo taken on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 the Nativity Scene set up in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican that will be unveiled by Pope Benedict XVI Monday, Dec. 24. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Heralded by the blare of trumpets, Pope Benedict XVI is presiding over Christmas Eve Mass in a St. Peter's Basilica packed with tourists, Italians and other faithful.

The ceremony began at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) Monday night instead of the traditional midnight start time. The schedule was changed at the Vatican years ago to let the pontiff rest before he is to deliver a Christmas Day speech hours later from the basilica's central balcony.

A smiling Benedict, dressed in gold-colored vestments, waved to photo-snapping pilgrims and applauding church-goers as he glided up the center aisle toward the ornate main altar of the cavernous basilica on a wheeled platform guided by white-gloved aides. The platform is employed to save the 85-year-old pontiff's energy.

As a men's choir chanted, Benedict sprinkled incense around the altar, and wished the faithful "peace" in Latin.

A few hours before Mass, Benedict lit a Christmas peace candle and set it upon the windowsill of his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square.