VATICAN CITY Pope Benedict urged the world on Monday to end what he called the endless slaughter in Syria before the entire country becomes a "a field of ruins".
Speaking in his yearly "state of the world" address to diplomats from nearly 180 countries and global organisations, Benedict also condemned "terrorist attacks" against Christians in Nigeria and violence in Mali, where Islamist rebels in the north are seeking to erase a more moderate religious tradition.
The 85-year-old leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said there was no justification for "baneful religious fanaticism" that had turned places of worship into places of trepidation.
He also said the global economic crisis was caused in part by an absolutist view of profit and denounced moves in some countries to decriminalise abortion.
But in his virtual tour of world hot spots, he reserved his toughest words for the civil war in Syria, where the United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in a 21-month-old conflict that shows no signs of a let-up.
Syria is bring "torn apart by endless slaughter and (is) the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population," he said. The pope called for an "end to a conflict which will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving behind it nothing but a field of ruins".
Benedict urged the diplomats gathered in the Sala Regia of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace to push their governments to do everything possible to face "this grave humanitarian situation", telling them political authorities had "a grave responsibility to work for peace".
Global powers have been loath to intervene in Syria for fear of triggering a wider conflict in a volatile region.
The pope delivered his French-language address a day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected peace talks with his enemies in a defiant speech that his opponents described as a renewed declaration of war.
DEATH IN CHURCHES
On Nigeria, Benedict denounced violence by the Islamist sect Boko Haram, who have killed hundreds in their campaign to impose sharia law in the north, targeting a number of churches.
"Nigeria is regularly the scene of terrorist attacks which reap victims above all among the Christian faithful gathered in prayer, as if hatred intended to turn temples of prayer and peace into places of fear and division," he said.
He called for "effective attention of the international community" to the situation in Mali, where a mix of Islamists with links to al Qaeda have carried out amputations to help impose strict Islamic law on a population that has practised a more moderate form of Islam for centuries.
Turning his attention to the economy, Benedict said the global crisis was in part caused "because profit was all too often made absolute" .
He condemned short-sighted, "unrestrained ventures" in the economy and called for a rediscovery of "the meaning of work and proportionate profit".
"To that end, it would be well to teach people how to resist the temptations of particular and short-term interests, and to look instead to the common good," the pope said.
He hoped the United Nations' recognition of Palestine as non-member observer state would lead to a two-state solution and make Jerusalem "a city of peace and not of division".
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Barry Moody/Mark Heinrich)