ROME – Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday lamented what he described as a steady diet of news about evil in the world, saying it hardens hearts, as he prayed at the Spanish Steps in a Christmas season tradition.
Shoppers who jammed the narrow streets, including Via Condotti with its posh shops, paused from buying Christmas gifts to catch a glimpse of Benedict as he was driven in a glass-sided popemobile to the square below the Spanish Steps.
"Every day, through the newspapers, television, radio, evil is reported, repeated, amplified, making us used to horrible things, making us become insensitive, and, in some way, poisoning us," the pope said after kneeling in prayer before a statue of the Virgin Mary to mark the Dec. 8 Catholic feast day in her honor.
"Hearts harden and thoughts darken," Benedict said.
He also complained that the mass media "tend to make us feel like spectators, as if evil regards only others and certain things could never happen to us."
Instead, Benedict said, "we are all actors, and for better or worse, our behavior has an influence on others."
An aide held a white umbrella over the 82-year-old pontiff in a drizzle at dusk. Benedict wore an ermine-trimmed, crimson cape to guard against the chill.
Benedict's next major public holiday appointment is Christmas Eve Mass, which he will celebrate at 10 p.m. instead of the traditional starting hour of midnight in St. Peter's Basilica.
The announcement by the Vatican that the pope had agreed with his aides to move up the appointment by two hours raised some concern about the pontiff's health.
But Vatican officials have insisted his health is fine, and that Benedict had agreed with aides to have more time to rest before a noon appearance to crowds in St. Peter's Square on Christmas Day.
Although Benedict at the start of his papacy ventured that he would travel far less than his globe-trotting predecessor, John Paul II, did in his 26-year-long pontificate, the German-born theologian has been making several international and domestic trips each year.
On Tuesday, church officials announced that Benedict would make several Italian pilgrimages in 2010, including a visit in October to Sicily, where the local church has been speaking out against organized crime. Other trips include a visit in May to Turin to see the famed Shroud and a journey in July to the central town of Sulmona, the spiritual home of the 13th-century hermit pope, Celestine V, the only pontiff to have resigned.
At least two foreign trips have been announced for next year: separate pilgrimages to the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus. Britain and Fatima, Portugal, are possibilities for other trips.