The traditional papal Christmas Day message "Urbi et Orbi" - Latin for "to the City and to the World" - usually covers the globe's hot spots, but this year Benedict also addressed the gloomy economic conditions worrying many across the planet.
Amid near daily news of layoffs, failing companies and people losing homes they can no longer afford in many parts of the world, Benedict's words seemed tailored in part to the global economic crisis.
He said his Christmas message also 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."
Without citing countries, Benedict said he hoped the light of Christmas would radiate to places where "the basics needed for survival are missing."
Wearing a crimson mantle against a damp chill, Benedict told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that God's saving grace could "alone transform evil into good" and "change human hearts, making them oases of peace."
Benedict 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."
International pressure has been mounting for longtime Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe to step down, following disputed elections in March. Millions of Zimbabwe's people need food aid, and a cholera epidemic has sharpened problems in a country once considered African's breadbasket.
Suffering also continues in the war-raged region of Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Darfur, Sudan, the pope added. In Somalia, people are weighed down with "interminable sufferings" as "the tragic consequences of the lack of stability and peace," he said.
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.
After reading a litany of the world's woes, the pope added a lighter touch, reciting holiday greetings in 64 languages, including Latin, the Church's official tongue.
The pope had rested for a few hours after celebrating Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the early hours of Thursday.
During that ceremony, the pope lamented the suffering of children who are abandoned, living on the streets or forced to serve as soldiers in conflicts.