VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Humanity faces a decisive challenge - educating new generations in justice and peace in order to avoid the violent tragedies of the past, Pope Benedict said in his New Year address on Sunday.
Benedict, 84, marked his seventh New Year as pope by celebrating a Mass for several thousand people in St Peter's Basilica on the day the Roman Catholic Church calls its annual World Day of Peace.
The pope said this year's theme, "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace," is a task for every generation following the two world wars in the 20th century and other conflicts since.
Educating the young "in knowledge of the truth, in fundamental values and virtues, is to look to the future with hope," he said in his homily.
Young people needed all-round education, and this required a social commitment to justice and peace, the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics said. They must use advances in communications technology to promote peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, dialogue and understanding.
"Young people ... are open to these attitudes but the social reality in which they grow up can lead them to think and act in the opposite way, even to be intolerant and violent," he said.
As usual at papal events since October the pope, who is believed to have arthritis in the legs, was wheeled up the central aisle of St Peter's standing on a mobile platform.
The Vatican says this is to save his strength, allow more people to see him and prevent attacks like one on Christmas Eve 2009, when a woman lunged at him and knocked him to the ground.
On New Year's Eve, at the traditional "Te Deum" Mass of thanksgiving, the pope said many people were entering the new year "with some trepidation," worried "by the crisis in economic affairs."
On Friday, feast of the Epiphany, Benedict will lead the consecration of new bishops in St Peter's and on Sunday he will baptize babies in the Sistine Chapel. He will visit Mexico and Cuba in March and may visit Lebanon sometime in 2012.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Tim Pearce