NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Christians around the globe are gathering on Monday night to celebrate one of the most important holy days of the year.

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass in a crowded Saint Peter’s Basilica. Pilgrims poured into Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

Tourists are flocking to the Church of the Nativity, thought to be the exact place where Jesus’ family spent the first Christmas.

And in New York, they are flocking to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Prayers inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral are leading up to the church’s historic Midnight Mass. The faithful have been filing in this Christmas Eve, searching for strength in tough times.

“(I hope) that we can all live together without all this strife that goes on in the world today,” one woman told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.

“It just seems like mass confusion,” another man added.

The lighting of the candles cast a calm over parishioners. Some came to the church alone for some personal time before the gospel is read.

One woman brought her entire extended family.

“13, 14, 15, 16, 17…,” Suzette Nesbit of Jersey City counted as she rattled of the family members alongside her.

Nesbit is hoping that the mass will be a lesson for her children, nieces and nephews about this season’s biblical gift.

“Christmas is not just about shopping,” Nesbit said. “It’s about the birth of the savior. This is what happened in different cultures, and they can understand.”

Still, others came for the greater good of humanity — thinking not of themselves, but for the less fortunate, the needy and the troubled.

“My prayer will be for peace,” Karen Nailey of Scottsdale, Ariz., said. “(It) will be for healing, for people that are in pain and that this world will learn to live together.”

Monday night’s services all lead up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s Midnight Mass, which is by ticketed reserve seating only.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan will lead the mass.

Have you ever been to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Christmas Eve? What was the experience like? Share your memories and comments in the section below…


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