VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI marked his first Christmas as pope Sunday, calling for the "signs of hope" in the Middle East to be confirmed by actions on the ground and urging peace in the Darfur province of Sudan, the Korean peninsula and elsewhere.
Thousands of cheering tourists and pilgrims braved a chilly drizzle that turned into a downpour to hear Benedict's first Christmas message, which was delivered from the same balcony of St. Peter's Basilica where he uttered his first public words as pope.
Benedict continued the tradition of Pope John Paul II by using the "Urbi et Orbi" message — Latin for "to the city and to the world" — to review conditions around the world and lament the violence and poverty that afflict so many. He then followed in John Paul's footsteps by delighting the crowd with Christmas greetings in more than 30 languages.
His brief appearance, which came hours after he celebrated his first Midnight Mass inside St. Peter's, was broadcast by 111 television networks around the world, about half of which carried the message live.
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.