Pope Warns of Modern 'Spiritual Barrenness'

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 26, 2005

VATICAN CITY, Dec. 25 -- Pope Benedict XVI, standing on the spot where he appeared as the newly elected pontiff last spring, delivered his first Christmas message to a large crowd in St. Peter's Square and warned of dangers of technological advance made in the absence of religious belief.

"Today we can marshal vast material resources," he said from a balcony to thousands of people below as rain poured down from gray skies. "But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart.

"The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity's enlightenment after an age of darkness," he said. "Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world."

In his homily at midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, a few hours before his appearance in the square, Benedict made a reference to the church's ban on abortion, saying that God's love shines on each child, "even on those still unborn."

The pope's Christmas appearance was much anticipated, in part to see how he would measure up to John Paul II in terms of charisma and stamina. Benedict, declaring "Merry Christmas" in 30 languages, presided at the two-hour midnight Mass without signs of fatigue and braved the foul weather to speak to the assembled crowd at St. Peter's.

In the traditional Christmas message, titled "Urbi et Orbi," Latin for "to the city and the world," Benedict reviewed world conditions. Speaking in Italian, he prayed for "courage to people of goodwill in the Holy Land, in Iraq, in Lebanon, where signs of hope, which are not lacking, need to be confirmed by actions inspired by fairness and wisdom."

The pontiff said the suffering refugees in Darfur, a region of western Sudan, need protection of their "most elementary rights," and he appealed for resolution of "dangerous disputes" in South Asia and on the Korean Peninsula.

"A united humanity will be able to confront the troubling problems of the present time: from the menace of terrorism to the humiliating poverty in which millions of human beings live, from the proliferation of weapons to the pandemics and the environmental destruction which threaten the future of our planet," he said. Benedict, wearing a gold miter and glittering gold cape with white vestments, stood on the balcony over the main door at St. Peter's Basilica.

The crowd applauded and cheered. Before the pope's appearance, a military band serenaded the people waiting in the rain.

Benedict, who has made few comments on social issues during his papacy, called for a battle against poverty in the name of Jesus. "Do not fear. Put your trust in Him!" he said. "The life-giving power of His light is an incentive for building a new world order based on just, ethical and economic relationships."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company