POPE Benedict XVI yesterday highlighted young people as key to securing a future of hope, despite what he called "shadows on the horizon of today's world".
In his New Year's homily, amid the splendour of St Peter's Basilica, with ambassadors to the Holy See from dozens of countries seated in the front rows, the Pontiff celebrated Mass on a day the Vatican dedicates to world peace.
"I would like to underline the fact that, in the face of the shadows that obscure the horizon of today's world, to assume responsibility for educating young people in knowledge of the truth, in fundamental values and virtues, is to look to the future with hope," he said.
Young people, the Pontiff said, must "learn the importance and the art of peaceful co-existence, mutual respect, dialogue and understanding. Young people by their nature are open to these attitudes, but the social reality in which they grow up can lead them to think and act in the opposite way, even to be intolerant and violent," he said.
But they will become "builders of peace" if properly educated, he predicted.
The 84-year-old looked tired during Mass, but his voice was strong, and he smiled and chatted briefly with families and young children who carried gifts to him during the ceremony. He seemed amused by one dummy-sucking infant as the parents kneeled before him.
As he has for the past few months, Benedict used a wheeled platform, guided by ushers, to move down the basilica's long aisle between entrance and main altar. The Vatican has said the device is meant to cut down on exertion, but is not employed because of any medical reason.
While citing the "shadows" hanging over humanity, the Pontiff did not mention specific conflicts or the economic crisis afflicting many countries.
But after Mass, in remarks in English from his studio window overlooking St Peter's Square, jammed with thousands of Romans, tourists and pilgrims, Benedict invited all to pray with him "earnestly for peace throughout the world".