VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2004 ( John Paul II made a strong plea to the Infant Jesus for peace on earth, as the Holy Father observed the 27th Christmas of his pontificate.

The Pope read his traditional Christmas message at midday today prior to imparting his blessing to Rome and to the world, before thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square under rainy skies.

His words were broadcast to 72 countries, including Muslim nations -- Turkey, Morocco, Algeria and Indonesia.

The Holy Father, who had celebrated Midnight Mass, gave his greeting in 62 languages, including Hebrew and Arabic. After his greeting in Chinese, he raised his glance, as if expecting a response.

"Babe of Bethlehem, Prophet of peace," he implored in his message, "encourage attempts to promote dialogue and reconciliation, sustain the efforts to build peace, which hesitantly, yet not without hope, are being made to bring about a more tranquil present and future for so many of our brothers and sisters in the world."

"I think of Africa, of the tragedy of Darfur in Sudan, of Côte d'Ivoire and of the Great Lakes Region," the Pope said. "With great apprehension I follow the situation in Iraq. And how can I fail to look with anxious concern, but also invincible confidence, towards that Land of which you are a son?

"Everywhere peace is needed! You, Prince of true peace, help us to understand that the only way to build peace is to flee in horror from evil, and to pursue goodness with courage and perseverance."

"Men and women of good will, of every people on the earth, come with trust to the crib of the Savior!" the Holy Father exhorted. "Hasten to meet him; he comes to teach us the way of truth, peace and love."

John Paul II spoke for more than a half-hour. On Sunday he plans to lead the praying of the midday Angelus. On Dec. 31, in St. Peter's Basilica, he plans to participate in the praying of the "Te Deum" in thanksgiving for the graces of 2004.

On Jan. 1 he is scheduled to preside at a Mass on World Day for Peace.