Pope John Paul II read Christmas greetings "to each and every human being" in 24 languages yesterday and asked everyone to join him in urgent prayers for peace.
"Man cannot be destroyed, it is not permitted to humiliate him, it is not permitted to hate him," he said in his first papal Christmas message from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to a crowd of 30,000 gathered in the square below in the chilly morning rain.
The pope's message highlighted celebrations of Christmas by hundreds of millions of Christmas and others around the world-from Christ's traditional birthplace, Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to Peking.
The lights from the pope's own Christmas fir tree could be seen flickering within the papal apartments as the 58-year-old Polish-born pontiff delivered the traditional "Urbi et Orbi"-"to the City and the World"-papal message and blessing. A few hours earlier, he officiated at midnight mass in the basilica and spoke out against political and economic oppression.
"To everyone, I address a pressing invitation to pray together with the pope for peace," John Paul said as he read out his message ad then concluded his brief greeting in languages such as Arabic, Gaelic, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, English and his native Polish with the wish: "Happy Christmas."
Unlike the service that marked his installation October, the Vatican said, the international television broadcast of the papal midnight mass and message was not picked up by Poland or other East European countries.
In Warsaw, the Polish capital, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski called in his Christmas sermon for Poles to pray that the pope will be able to visit his homeland in May to celebrate the martyrdom of Poland's patron saintt, St. Stanislaw. The cardinal did not say if anything had occurred that might prevent a trip by the pope.
In Bethlehem, an estimated 40,000 pilgrims from many lands mingled with Jews and Arabs in Manger Square, traditional site of the stable in which Christ was born.
Israeli troops were more in evidence this year in Bethlehem than in any of the previous years since the town was captured in the 1967 war with the Arabs. But no trouble was reported.
On the Golan Heights, U.N. soldiers from Austria, among the troops keeping peace between the Israelis and the Syrians, spent the night huddled round a Christmas tree singing "Silent Night."
Outside the U.N. Command post on the frozen wastes of Mount Hermon, Syrian shepherds tending their sheep could hear the distant rumble of heavy artillery from southern Lebanon as rightwing Lebanese militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas engaged in another long-range artillery duel.
In Peking, Chinese television broadcast a program of religious music for the first time at Christmas since the Communists took over in 1949. A handful of Chinese also attended church service held for the city's foreign residents.
Queen Elizabeth, in her Christmas message to Britain and the Commonwealth, called for optimism and faith in the future. "Even if the problems seem overwhelming, there is always room for optimism," she said.