VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI issued a Christmas Day appeal Tuesday to political leaders around the globe to find the "wisdom and courage" to end bloody conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo.
Benedict delivered his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" speech — Latin for "to the city and to the world" — from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing thousands of people gathered in the square below under a brilliant winter sun.
Wearing gold-embroidered vestments and a bejeweled bishops' hat, or miter, Benedict urged the crowd to rejoice over the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth, which he said he hoped would bring consolation to all people "who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war."
He mentioned in particular those living in the "tortured regions" of Darfur, Somalia, northern Congo, the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Balkans.
"May the child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions," he said.
Beyond those conflicts, Benedict said he was turning his thoughts this Christmas to victims of other injustices, citing women, children and the elderly, as well as refugees and victims of environmental disasters and religious and ethnic tensions.
He said he hoped Christmas would bring consolation to "those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend human dignity."
Such injustices and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and souring international relations, he said.
In a nod to his engagement with environmental concerns, the pontiff also noted that the number of migrants and displaced people was increasing around the globe because of "frequent natural disasters, often caused by environmental upheavals."
The pontiff delivered his message just hours after celebrating Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
Benedict followed his speech with his traditional Christmas Day greetings — this year delivered in 63 different languages, including Mongolian, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Burmese, and in a new entry for 2007, Guarani, a South American Indian language.
As he finished, the bells of St. Peter's tolled and the Vatican's brightly outfitted Swiss Guards stood at attention as a band played and a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands waved national flags and cheered.