Pope Francis has denounced the “brutal persecution” of religious and ethnic minorities, in his traditional Christmas Day address.
In his second “Urbi et Orbi” —to the city and the world — Christmas message, the pontiff highlighted the plight of victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq.
Let there be peace: Pope Francis giving his traditional Christmas blessing from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica yesterday at the Vatican. Pic/AFP
“Too many people are being held hostage or massacred” in Nigeria, he added. Pope Francis also urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and condemned Taliban attacks in Pakistan.
Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter’s Square to hear the Argentine Pope deliver his annual message.
He said Christians in Iraq and Syria had endured conflict for too long, and “together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution”.
“May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world,” the Pope said.
Shortly before midday a marching band headed along the main avenue towards the Vatican. Police officers shepherded back onlookers who got too close.
Thousands of tourists and pilgrims then walked the short distance to St Peter’s Square. They looked up to the balcony of the Basilica. Those at the back looked at video screens set up on either side of the square.
The crowd cheered as the Pope stepped out to deliver his Christmas message to the city and the world. He spoke quietly in Italian. He called for peace in a number of conflicts — in the Middle East and Africa in particular. He also asked for peace in Ukraine, Nigeria, in Libya, South Sudan and other parts of Africa.
He called for comfort for the families of the 132 children killed in a Taliban attack in Pakistan last week — and for the victims of the Ebola epidemic.
He went off his prepared text to say the “helpless cries” of children were not being heard in countries affected by wars and conflicts. “My thoughts go out to all the children today who are killed and mistreated, be it those even before they are born who are deprived of the generous love of their parents and buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life,” he said, adding, “Also those children who are displaced because of wars an persecutions, abused and exploited before our eyes and with our silent complicity, children massacred under bombings even where the son of god was born.
Today their helpless silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. There are many tears this Christmas with the tears of baby Jesus.”
He made a surprise telephone call to refugees in a camp near Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region. “You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either,” he told them.