But this year Benedict also addressed the economic conditions worrying many across the planet amid near-daily news of layoffs, failing companies and people losing homes.

Benedict said his Christmas message applied to "wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations".

"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," Benedict said.

"If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart."

Survival basics

Benedict said he hoped the light of Christmas would radiate to places where "the basics needed for survival are missing".

He dedicated part of his message to Africa, singling out Zimbabwe, where hunger is spreading and deepening. He said that people there were "trapped for too long in a political and social crisis which, sadly, keeps worsening".

Suffering also continues in the war-ravaged region of Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Darfur, Sudan, Benedict said.

In Somalia, people are weighed down with "interminable sufferings" as "the tragic consequences of the lack of stability and peace", he said.

Middle East 'bleaker'

Benedict spoke of violence and tensions in the Middle East, lamenting that "the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians".

He denounced what he called the "twisted logic of conflict and violence" and said he hoped dialogue and negotiation would prevail to find "just and lasting solutions to the conflicts troubling the region".

Benedict also cited Lebanon and Iraq.

Without naming any particular groups, the pope called for an end to "internecine conflict" dividing ethnic and social groups and disrupting peaceful coexistence. He also denounced terrorism "wherever" it continues to strike.