ROME — Offering his annual Christmas Day message on the state of the world, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday prayed for peace in the Middle East and Horn of Africa and offered prayers for flood victims in Southeast Asia.
"May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood," Benedict said, addressing crowds of the faithful from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in his annual "Urbi et Orbi" message, Latin for "to the city and the world."
The 84-year-old pontiff has appeared increasingly frail in recent months, and on Sunday his voice occasionally wavered and sounded weak, interrupted at times by a dry cough, as he delivered his message, and greetings to the faithful in 65 languages.
Dressed in a red velvet robe with gold trim and a white ermine collar, the pope called for "the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians" in the land where Jesus was born and prayed for "an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed."
Benedict also called for "full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan" and prayed for "renewed vigor to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East." He offered prayers for flood victims in Thailand and the Philippines and also prayed for the "prospects of dialogue and cooperation" in Myanmar.
Singling out conflicts in the Horn of Africa, Benedict urged that "the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried."
Rather than walking down the main aisle of St. Peter's on Saturday during Midnight Mass, the pope was wheeled there as he stood on the raised platform that he has been using in recent months. During the Mass, Benedict appeared tired at times, sometimes closing his eyes.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has said that the pope does not have any particular maladies and that he paces himself to keep up with his busy schedule. In March, Benedict is expected to make an ambitious trip to Mexico and Cuba.
In anticipation of the visit, some in the crowds in St. Peter's Square on Sunday waved Mexican flags and broke out in cheers when the pope offered Christmas greetings in Spanish.