In a Christmas plea for peace, Pope John Paul II said human suffering in Iraq , Sudan and the Holy Land demonstrates that the whole world needs the reconciling message of Jesus.
The pope made his appeal in an annual Christmas blessing which he delivered " urbi et orbi " -- Latin for "to the city and to the world." It was televised to more than 70 countries, along with the pope's Christmas greetings in 62 languages.
In a postscript the next day, the pope prayed for the more than 40,000 people killed in 11 countries when a massive earthquake spawned a series of tidal waves that inundated coastal areas from Sri Lanka to Indonesia .
After listening to Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, the pope celebrated midnight Mass in St Peter's Basilica. Although his voice was sometimes indistinct, the 84-year-old pontiff looked alert and pronounced the full text of his short sermon.
"Look upon us, eternal Son of God, who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. All humanity, with its burden of trials and troubles, stands in need of you," the pope said.
His face broke into a smile when pairs of young children, some dressed in traditional costumes, brought the offertory gifts to the altar. As the youngsters paused before him, the pope reached out and traced a cross on their foreheads.
The pope gave his Christmas blessing the next morning, in a ceremony that was more abbreviated than in previous years. An international crowd of about 20,000 people stood under a light rain in St Peter's Square , cheering and applauding when the pope said Merry Christmas in their language.
"May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies, and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Savior has been born for us," the pope said in English.
Among the brief Christmas salutations were those in Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili and Chinese.
In his talk, delivered in the form of a prayer, the pope asked Jesus to enlighten people around the world and encourage attempts at dialogue and peace.
"You alone are the Redeemer of mankind. Before the crib where you lie helpless, let there be an end to the spread of violence in its many forms, the source of untold suffering," he said.
"Let there be an end to the numerous situations of unrest which risk degenerating into open conflict; let there arise a firm will to seek peaceful solutions, respectful of the legitimate aspirations of individuals and peoples," he said.
The pope said efforts to promote dialogue and reconciliation and to build peace were hesitant but "not without hope" in many areas of the world.
"I think of Africa , of the tragedy of Darfur in Sudan , of Ivory Coast and of the Great Lakes region. With great apprehension I follow the situation in Iraq ," he said.
He added that he was looking "with anxious concern, but also invincible confidence," toward peace prospects in the Holy Land .
"Everywhere peace is needed!" he said, to applause from the crowd.
The Mass was broadcast to an audience of millions around the world, and it included prayers for peace in several languages. In particular, the prayers of the faithful asked political authorities and international leaders to "leave nothing untried" in the search for peaceful solutions to conflicts.
Another prayer implored peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land and asked that it become a "safe and hospitable place for pilgrims and seekers of truth."
Other prayers at the Christmas liturgy asked people to remember the plight of street children around the world, as well as the sick and marginalised.
In his sermon, the pope offered a reflection on the connection between the baby Jesus and the Eucharist. In the current year dedicated to the Eucharist, he said, that connection -- between Jesus as an innocent child and as a crucified saviour -- was something he carried constantly in his heart.
"We adore you, Lord, truly present in the sacrament of the altar, the living bread which gives life to humanity. We acknowledge you as our one God, a little child lying helpless in the manger," he said.
"In the fullness of time, you became a man among men, to unite the end to the beginning, that is, man to God," he said.