Pope John Paul says traditional challenges face the world in the new year. Speaking to diplomats accredited to the Vatican from 174 countries, he urged them to promote peace, defend life, and feed the world's hungry.

In his yearly address to the diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the pope said his feeling of joy in offering New Year's wishes was tempered by the bad news of 2004.

The pope mentioned the Indian Ocean tsunami devastation of December 26, the violence in Iraq and Sudan's Darfur region, locusts plaguing northwest Africa, the terrorist train bombings in Madrid, and the Beslan school massacre.

Addressing the diplomats in French, the pope said the world community faced four main and inter-connected challenges in 2005; the challenge of life, the challenge of food, the challenge of freedom, and the challenge of peace.

The pope reserved some of his strongest words for the defense of life. He reasserted the church's opposition to abortion, assisted procreation, and scientific research on human embryonic stem cells.

In a clear reference to laws that permit unions between homosexuals, the pontiff also said that in some countries the family's "natural structure" is challenged. Families, he said, must necessarily be that of a union between a man and a woman founded on marriage.

The pope also said the world needs to do something about the problem of malnutrition and hunger suffered by millions of people. He called for "a vast moral mobilization of public opinion" to stop people from starving in a world with abundant food.

The pope said that bringing about an authentic and lasting peace in this violent world calls for a power of good that does not shrink before difficulties. He urged politicians to promote peace, which he described as "the dream of every generation".