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Pope focuses on economic hardship

Pope Benedict XVI marked the final hours of 2010 with public prayer and a word of concern for families struggling with economic troubles.

Benedict gave thanks for God's grace and love throughout the year as he presided over a traditional New Year's Eve vespers service in St Peter's Basilica.

He offered praise for volunteers who work with the downtrodden and spoke of his concern for those suffering economic woes.

"The current moment still generates worry for the precariousness in which so many families live," Benedict said.

He said the tough times require solidarity "with those who live in conditions of poverty or deprivation".

He was philosophical about the year's passing.

"At the end of this year, 2010, before leaving its days and hours to God and his just and merciful judgment, I feel a very strong need in my heart to elevate our thanks to Him and his love for us," said Benedict during his homily.

A choir solemnly sang hymns of praise and ministers sprinkled incense around the flower-bedecked altar as the pope stood silently with his hands folded in prayer.

The 83-year-old Pope will return to the basilica at mid-morning today to celebrate Mass on New Year's Day, which the Vatican dedicates to world peace.

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