Pope Francis, in his first message of the new year, on Friday urged people to combat the "torrent" of misery, injustice and violence in the world by overcoming all indifference to the many who are suffering.

Security was tight. Police checked the bags of people blocks away from St. Peter's Square and about 10,000 people went through additional, airport-style screening to get into St. Peter's Basilica and hear Francis celebrate Mass.

"We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims ... we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights," the pope said.

In his homily he urged people to overcome what he called "a torrent of misery" by "building an ever more just and fraternal world, a world in which every person and every creature can dwell in peace, in the harmony of God’s original creation".

The 79-year-old looked and sounded well despite having made many public appearances over the Christmas and New Year season.

He called on everyone, on the day the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church marks its annual World Day of Peace, to "let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing".