During the General Audiences this past month, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI continued his cycle of catechesis on St Paul, in this special Year of St Paul. On 22 December, Benedict XVI received the Roman Curia in audience for the traditional presentation of Christmas greetings. On Christmas Eve Benedict presided Midnight Mass in St Peter's Basilica. The next morning, he delivered his Christmas Message and gave his Urbi et Orbi Blessing. On 31 December in St Peter's he presided First Vespers of the solemnity of Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, which concluded with the singing of the Te Deum of thanksgiving at the end of the civil year.
Among the audiences granted by the Holy Father, we mention: 1 December students and teachers of Parma University; 5 December participants at the International Theological Commission plenary; 12 December, participants at the plenary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity; 18 December directors and employees of the Centro Televisivo Vaticano; 20 December a delegation of Catholic Action children and on the same day, docents and students of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology.
The Holy Father received the Bishops of Chile and the Bishops of Taiwan making their respective ad limina visits. On 9 December the Supreme Pontiff sent a message to the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture on occasion of a Study Day on the theme: “Cultures and religions in dialogue”. Of great importance, a Message sent on 5 December expressing condolence for the death His Holiness Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia
Lastly we mention the Holy Father's special prayers in his Christmas Message for the people of the Holy Land, Lebanon, Iraq and the whole Middle East region; Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, especially the regions of Kivu, and of Darfur, in Sudan, and Somalia.
On 26 December after the Angelus prayer, the Holy Father called for the release of Italian consecrated women Maria Teresa Oliviero and Caterina Giraudo, members of "Padre de Foucauld" contemplative missionary movement, take hostage in Somalia, almost two months ago and for all those held hostage whether for political or other reasons in Latin America, in the Middle East and in Africa.