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Pope optimistic at end of hard year

Pope Benedict XVI has marked the end of a difficult year by saying that goodness prevails despite all the death and injustice in the world.

Benedict celebrated New Year's Eve with a vespers service in St. Peter's Basilica to give thanks for 2012 and look ahead to 2013.

He appeared tired during the service and used a cane afterwards, an indication that the busy Christmas season may be taking a toll on the 85-year-old Benedict.

In his homily, Benedict said it is hard to remember that goodness prevails when bad news - death, violence and injustice - "makes more noise than good".

He said taking time to meditate in prolonged reflection and prayer can help "find healing from the inevitable wounds of daily life".

This past year was full of highs and lows for the pope, including a successful trip to Mexico and Cuba but also the betrayal of his butler, convicted in October of stealing Benedict's personal papers and leaking them to a journalist.

After the service, Benedict was brought out in a covered car to pray before the Vatican's main nativity scene in St Peter's Square.

Walking with a cane in the chilly piazza, Benedict chatted animatedly with the artist who crafted the scene, which recreated an entire village from the poor, southern Italian region of Basilicata that donated this year's creche.

The Vatican gladly accepted Basilicata's donation after the large price tag the Vatican paid for the 2009 nativity scene was revealed in the documentation leaked by Benedict's ex-butler Paolo Gabriele.

Gabriele was convicted of aggravated theft by a Vatican tribunal and sentenced to 18 months in prison. He received a pre-Christmas papal pardon and is expected to soon leave his Vatican City apartment for a new home and job elsewhere.

On Tuesday morning, Benedict celebrates a New Year's Day Mass, which the Catholic Church celebrates as its world day of peace.

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