VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis used his Christmas Day message to make a heartfelt plea to save the world’s children from war, persecution and abuse.
Delivering his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” message (Latin for “to the city and the world”), the pope departed from his prepared text to say the “helpless cries” of children were not being heard as they were being massacred in trouble spots including Iraq and Syria, as well as Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
The Vatican estimated 80,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square to hear the pope’s message and pilgrims who had travelled from as far as Brazil, Taiwan, and Turkey. Many were in tears, visibly moved by the pontiff’s words.
“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,” the pope told the crowd.
“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,” he said in reference to Bethlehem, located in in the Israel-occupied West Bank.
“Today their helpless silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods,” he said. “There are many tears this Christmas with the tears of baby Jesus.”
Earlier in his message the pope condemned the “brutal persecution” of Christians and other religious and ethnic groups in Iraq and Syria, and called for an end to bloodshed in global trouble spots including Ukraine and Nigeria.
Speaking from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to the crowd, the pontiff said Christians and other ethnic and religious groups “for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict.”
“May Christmas bring them hope,” Francis said. “May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.”
Before celebrating Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve, the pope made a surprise telephone call to Christian refugees in a camp in Ankawa near Erbil in northern Iraq to express his support and solidarity.
“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he was forced to flee,” the pope told them during the call arranged by Italian Catholic TV station, Sat2000. “There was no room for Him either, and He had to flee to Egypt later to save Himself. That means we are praying even harder for you.”
The pope has condemned the violence several times during his November visit to Turkey. Earlier this week, he released an open letter to Christians in the region and called on Muslim religious leaders to “unanimously condemn” violent persecution.”
“Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence,” the pope said in that message.
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