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Pope Francis' simple style on Christmas offers sharp contrast to Benedict's ornate garb

Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

Pope Francis makes a blessing as he delivers his first "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and world) message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Dec. 25, 2013.

Pope Francis offered Christmas wishes Wednesday for a better world, praying for protection for Christians under attack, battered women and trafficked children, peace in the Middle East and Africa, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict around the globe.

The 77-year-old pope kept to the simple style he has set for his papacy. Wearing a plain white cassock, Francis presented a sharp contrast in appearance to the pope who stood on the same balcony on Christmas exactly a year ago. Then Benedict XVI, who was soon to stun the world by retiring, read his Christmas speech while dressed in a crimson, ermine-trimmed cape. Benedict lives on the Vatican grounds, and Francis paid a holiday call on him earlier this week.

In another break with tradition, the Argentine-born Francis stuck to Italian for his Christmas greetings, forsaking a custom of wishing happy holidays in dozens of languages to the crowd below the balcony.

Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters, file

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the crowd as he makes his "Urbi et Orbi" address from a balcony in St. Peter's Square in Vatican on Dec. 25, 2012.

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