VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas Day message Sunday that signs of hope in Iraq, the Holy Land and Lebanon need to be reinforced by actions on the ground.
Benedict also urged protection for those suffering "tragic humanitarian crises" in Darfur, Sudan, and other parts of Africa, and called for the settlement of "dangerous disputes" in Asia and continued dialogue on the Korean peninsula.
It was Benedict's first Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" message - Latin for "to the city and to the world" - and he continued the tradition of Pope John Paul II by using the speech to review conditions around the world and lament the violence and poverty that afflict so many.
The message was delivered from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, the same velvet-draped balcony where Benedict uttered his first public words as pope. Hours earlier, he celebrated his first midnight Mass inside St. Peter's, in which he prayed for peace in the Holy Land.
A screaming and cheering crowd of thousands, headed by a military marching band and lines of Swiss Guards, braved a chilly drizzle to hear the pope's message. Groups of pilgrims and tourists cheered and clapped when he wished them a merry Christmas in more than two dozen languages - another tradition of John Paul's.
Wearing shimmering gold vestments and a golden miter, Benedict told the crowd that God's love strengthened all of humanity.
"A united humanity will be able to confront the troubling problems of the present time: from the menace of terrorism to the humiliating poverty in which millions of human beings live, from the proliferation of weapons to the pandemics and the environmental destruction which threatens the future of our planet," he said.
In the Middle East, he prayed that God "grant courage to people of good will in the Holy Land, in Iraq, in Lebanon, where signs of hope, which are not lacking, need to be confirmed by actions inspired by fairness and wisdom."
He singled out the Darfur conflict in Africa in urging strength for all those who are working for peace, development and the prevention of conflicts. He urged protection "of the most elementary rights of those experiencing tragic humanitarian crises, such as those in Darfur and in other regions of central Africa."
He asked God to favor continued dialogue on the Korean peninsula and elsewhere in Asia "so that by the settlement of dangerous disputes, consistent and peaceful conclusions can be reached in a spirit of friendship, conclusions with their peoples expectantly await."
And he called for the people of Latin America to live in peace and harmony.
At the start of his message, Benedict recalled the "immense" progress that had been made in recent centuries in technology and science.
"But the men and women in our technical age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart," he said.
To combat such a void, he urged the faithful to open their minds and hearts to the birth of Christ.
"The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity's enlightenment after an age of darkness," he said. "Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world."
Benedict has one other major public holiday appearance Monday, when he will deliver a noontime prayer. Then he breaks for a few days before presiding over an evening prayer service on New Year's Eve and celebrating Mass on New Year's Day, which the Catholic Church marks as World Peace Day.