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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Thursday he hoped Christmas would bring hope to those suffering from war, terrorism, injustice and poverty and appealed for peace in the Holy Land.
In his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) Christmas Day message, the Pope also turned his thoughts to some of the world's wealthiest countries, which have been hard hit by the world financial crisis.
"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 from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica to tens of thousands of people below.
"If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart."
Benedict is expected to visit the Holy Land in 2009, with possible stops in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He hoped the region, the site of renewed violence after a truce ended this month between Israel and Palestinian factions led by Hamas militants, could return to the path toward peace.
"May the divine light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians," Benedict said, condemning the "twisted logic of conflict and violence."
"May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq and the whole Middle East."
The pope, celebrating the fourth Christmas of his pontificate, lamented deepening troubles in Zimbabwe, where under President Robert Mugabe a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,100 people and hyperinflation doubles prices every day.
The people of Zimbabwe, he said, were "trapped for all too long in a political and social crisis which sadly keeps worsening."
The pontiff cited violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur, as well as Somalia's "interminable sufferings."
The address was broadcast live to more than 60 countries and after it the pope, sitting on a throne and wearing a red and white cape, read Christmas greetings in 64 languages.
He acknowledged that "an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations."
In his greeting to Italians, he called for solidarity during a "considerable economic crisis" that economists forecast could plunge Italy into its longest recession since World War Two.
Earlier Thursday Pope Benedict led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas at a midnight mass in which he appealed for an end to child abuse in all its 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."
Benedict said Catholics had to "do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children."
In the past year the Pope has repeatedly addressed the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, but did not raise it in his Christmas homily.
Benedict apologized for sexual abuse of minors by clergy and met victims during a July trip to Australia. He also met victims in the United States in April.
Editing Elizabeth Piper