Pope Benedict is calling for greater sobriety and solidarity in 2009 as the world struggles with economic and social problems.
Speaking Wednesday in Vatican City, Benedict described the current times as being marked by uncertainty and worry for the future; but he urged the faithful to work together and to not be afraid. The pope is also expected to celebrate a Mass on New Year's Day, which the Roman Catholic Church celebrates as its World Day of Peace. Church officials say the pontiff will talk about poverty as a contributing factor in armed and other conflicts and discuss globalization as well.Meanwhile, many parts of the world are celebrating the start of the new year with fireworks and other festivities. Sydney, Australia was the world's first major city to ring in 2009, showering its simmering harbor with fireworks that drew cheers from more than a million people. Fireworks were also set off from Seoul to Hong Kong as television presenters counted down to welcome in the new year. In Japan, temple bells rang out as worshippers threw coins as offerings and prayed.
In Moscow, fireworks lit up the night sky over Red Square after the national anthem was played. Russia has been celebrating the start of 2009 over 11 time zones. As the clock struck midnight in each zone, a pre-recorded message from President Dmitri Medvedev was broadcast, beginning in Russia's eastern corner. Many people around the world are eager to say goodbye to 2008, which has been tarnished by the global economic meltdown. Celebrations in some cities were more subdued, while in other places, they did not take place at all. Festivities were muted in China, which rings in the Lunar New Year later in January.
The Associated Press reports that Malaysia, mindful of its shaky economy, opted not to sponsor celebrations at all. Elsewhere, Indian authorities threw a security blanket around the financial capital, Mumbai, following November's terrorist attacks that left more than 170 people dead. Later, revelers in New York City's Times Square will watch the annual dropping of the ball and countdown to the new year which begins at 0500 UTC on the U.S. east coast.