BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AFP) - The Catholic leader in the Holy Land Thursday prayed for Mideast peace, telling the faithful at the traditional birthplace of Jesus the silent night of Christmas overpowers the voice of guns. "Peace to Bethlehem and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land," Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal said in his sermon at midnight mass in Bethlehem, just a few meters from the grotto that marks the spot. "On this night, the silence of the grotto will be even louder than the voice of the cannons and submachine guns," he told pilgrims from around the world who celebrated Christmas in this Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. "The silence of the grotto gives life to those whose voice has been suffocated by tears and who have sought refuge in silence and impotence," he told the crowd that packed the church, which included Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. "The cry of the widows and the children is mixed with the noise of cannons and submachine guns," said Twal who delivered his sermon in his native Arabic and then again in French. Peace, Twal said, is "the solution for all conflicts and differences. War does not produce peace, prisons do not guarantee stability." "The highest of walls do not assure security," he told the faithful, many of whom had driven through a gate at the eight-metre high concrete wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem and forms part of the projected 700-kilometer West Bank separation barrier Israel says is needed for security. Meanwhile, war and economic hardship loomed over Christmas celebrations across the world on Thursday. In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, thousands of Christians turned out in the largest numbers since the 2000 start of the Palestinian uprising, braving the cold to bring festive cheer to the troubled region. Many prayed in the Church of the Nativity, where a grotto marks the spot where Christ is believed to have been born, while others gathered outside in Manger Square, where boy scout marching bands played hymns on bagpipes and drums. In Afghanistan a British marine was shot dead in the southern province of Helmand on Christmas Eve, and a US trooper was killed in an attack in the east of the country on the same day, military authorities said. In the Philippines military and 5,000 communist insurgents declared ceasefires on Wednesday and Thursday in the country, where more than 80 percent of people are Christian. Other world leaders reflected on the economic hardship brought on by the worldwide credit crunch, which has sparked recession and job losses. US President-elect Barack Obama urged the American people to put their shoulder to the "wheel of history" to forge brighter days from the misery of economic crisis, and paid tribute to the thousands of US service personnel stationed overseas. In Germany Catholic and Protestant religious leaders called for solidarity with those affected by the economic crisis. "In the midst of our Christmas celebrations, it's important we reflect on those in our community who are doing it tough," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in a national address. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth II urged victims of the credit crunch not to "lie down and accept defeat" but to draw strength from loved ones in her annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth Thursday. The 82-year-old monarch also made an apparent reference to last month's attacks in India's financial hub Mumbai which left 163 people dead in the message, which she writes herself and is broadcast every Christmas at 1500 GMT. "Christmas is a time for celebration, but this year it is a more sombre occasion for many," she said. "Some of those things which could once have been taken for granted suddenly seem less certain and naturally give rise to feelings of insecurity. "People are touched by events which have their roots far across the world. Whether it is the global economy or violence in a distant land, the effects can be keenly felt at home." The queen said that, in uncertain times people could "learn something from the past" and "begin to see things in a new perspective", hailing the example of people who live "outgoing and unselfish lives". "When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future," she said. "I think we have a huge amount to learn from individuals such as these. And what I believe many of us share with them is a source of strength and peace of mind in our families and friends."