Sunday, December 25, 2005

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI, in his first Christmas address as pontiff, yesterday urged humanity to unite against terrorism, poverty and environmental blight and called for a “new world order” to correct economic imbalances.

The pope spoke to tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered under umbrellas in a rainy St. Peter’s Square for his “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”) message and blessing.

In his address, telecast live from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of millions of people in nearly 40 countries, Benedict also urged his listeners not to let technological achievements blind them to true human values.

He said humanity should look to the Christ child for encouragement in times of difficulty and fear.

“A united humanity will be able to confront the many 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.

“Do not fear. Put your trust in Him. The life-giving power of His light is an incentive for building a new world order based on just ethical and economic relationships,” he said, speaking in Italian.

Marching bands from the Swiss Guard and Italian police played for the crowd near a larger-than-life Nativity scene, making for a festive atmosphere despite the rain.

The address by the leader of the world’s approximately 1.1 billion Roman Catholics was different in style than those of his predecessor John Paul II, who died in April.

John Paul wrote his Christmas addresses in free-style verse, which resembled poetry. Benedict’s was in prose like a normal homily or speech.

After the address, Benedict wished the world a happy Christmas in 33 languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Japanese and Latin. His predecessor sometimes used twice as many languages on Christmas.

Since his election, the pope repeatedly has reminded Catholics not to give in to an “ethical relativism,” in which circumstances can be used to justify actions that should be considered wrong in all cases.

The pope, wearing a gold cape and gold miter, continued in that line yesterday, focusing on the dangers of technology and progress.

“Today, we can dispose of vast material resources. But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart,” Benedict said.

“That is why it is so important for us to open our minds and hearts to the birth of Christ, this event of salvation, which can give new hope to the life of each human being,” he said.

He also urged respect for the rights of people suffering in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan, made another appeal for peace in the Holy Land and called for “actions inspired by fairness and wisdom” in Iraq and Lebanon.

The pope asked God to favor dialogue on the Korean Peninsula so that “dangerous disputes” there and elsewhere in Asia can be solved peacefully.

The “Urbi et Orbi” followed a Christmas Eve midnight Mass in a packed St Peter’s Basilica.

In his homily at that Mass, Benedict urged the world’s Catholics to be beacons of peace in a troubled world.

The next major event on the pope’s Christmas season calendar is a Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany Jan. 6.

In early January, the pope is due to publish his first encyclical, a major writing addressed to all Catholics. The encyclical addresses the individual’s personal relationship with God.

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