VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI urged a world confronting a financial crisis, conflict, and increasing poverty not to lose hope at Christmas but to join in "authentic solidarity" to prevent global ruin.
His message of salvation amid growing concern about the economic meltdown facing rich and poor nations alike was echoed across the continent in London, where Britain's Queen Elizabeth II called for courage in response to the rough times.
Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to tens of thousands of pilgrims, tourists, and Romans in the square below, the Pope called his Christmas message known as "Urbi et Orbi" - Latin for "to the City and to the World" - a "proclamation of hope."
He emphasized that it was "meant for all men and women."
As the global economy continues to spiral downward, the Pope said, "an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations."
"In each of these places, may the light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity," he said. "If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart."
He expressed hope that dialogue and negotiation would prevail to find "just and lasting solutions" to conflicts in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Middle East. He decried suffering in Africa, terrorism, and called for an end to "internecine conflict" dividing ethnic and social groups.
Celebrating the fourth Christmas of his pontificate, he lamented deepening troubles in Zimbabwe, where under President Robert Mugabe a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,000 people and hyperinflation doubles prices every day.
The people of Zimbabwe, he said, were "trapped for too long in a political and social crisis which sadly keeps worsening."
He cited violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur, as well as Somalia's "interminable sufferings."
He condemned the "twisted logic of conflict and violence" in the Middle East, which he is likely to visit next year. He lamented "the horizon seems again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians."
"May the divine light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land," he said. "May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq, and the Middle East."
The address was broadcast live to more than 60 countries and after it the Pope read Christmas greetings in 64 languages.
Earlier yesterday Pope Benedict led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics at a midnight Mass in which he appealed for an end to child abuse in all forms.
"Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home," he said. "Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized to the depths of their soul."
He said Catholics had to "do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children."
In Iraq yesterday, the government declared Christmas a holiday for the first time, a surprise for the country's Christian minority estimated to number only a few hundred thousand among the 26 million Iraqis, who are overwhelmingly Muslim.
Christians have often been the target of attacks by Islamic extremists in Iraq, and in his homily at Christmas Mass at a Baghdad monastery, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly praised the establishment of Christmas as an official holiday as a step toward easing tensions.
U.S. President Bush and relatives including his father, former President George H.W. Bush, were celebrating the holiday at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
President-elect Barack Obama and his family were vacationing in a beachfront rental home in his native Hawaii.
In the splendor of Buckingham Palace's Music Room, Queen Elizabeth acknowledged to her subjects that the economic crisis had given rise "to feelings of insecurity" and cast a pall over holiday celebrations.
"People are touched by events which have their roots far across the world," she said.
"Whether it is the global economy or violence in a distant land, the effects can be keenly felt at home."
But the queen stressed that "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."
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