Pope Francis, in his first ever Christmas message since assuming the leadership of the Catholic Church this year, prayed for an end to international conflicts. The Christmas speech, known as Urbi et Orbi or “to the City of Rome and to the World,” mainly dwelt on the violence and conflicts happening in some countries right now.
Speaking on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica before a record-number crowd of 150,000, the pontiff also prayed to God for the forgiveness of all peoples’ sins. Specifically, he called for an end to conflicts in Syria and Iraq. He also urged stakeholders to reach “a favorable outcome in peace talks between Israel and Palestine.” The fighting and civil wars in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo were also mentioned and must be stopped, added the Pope.
The 77-year-old Pope Francis reiterated the message that the birth of Jesus is meant for everyone who hopes for a peaceful and better world and who serves and cares for others while humbly doing his own responsibilities.
The large crowd assembled at St. Peter’s Square greeted his words with support and approval. The scene was made more festive because of the various flags of the world being waved in the air. The Pope asked God to influence men to abandon the path of conflict and violence and instead follow the path of peace and dialogue in order to resolve issues. He also said he believes that the main victims of these various wars and violent attacks are the defenseless and the innocents.
Children who are involved in armed conflicts are part of such victims, he said. When these children are recruited and forced to become soldiers, those responsible for such activities are robbing them of their childhood. Pope Francis added that the real essence of sustainable peace is not about the balancing of opposing forces or concealing conflicts, but the daily commitment to uphold it.
He likewise mentioned the refugees in the Horn of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo and what had happened in Lampedusa, “with so many deaths…[and this must] never occur again.” The Lampedusa event pertains to the sinking of a boat in October off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, where more than 300 migrants died. The migrants–who came from Somalia, Ghana and Eritrea–all desired to go to Italy for a better life.
He also prayed for the victims of the Supertyphoon Haiyan, which smashed several islands of the central Philippines leaving 6,000 people dead and thousands more injured and without homes and food. With regard to Christian communities being the subject of violence in the Middle East and Africa, Pope Francis said, “Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted in Your name.”
This came about after Christians were targeted in Christmas day bombings in Iraq, where 37 people perished. He was saddened by the fact that Christians nowadays are suffering violence and discrimination more as compared to what had happened in Christianity’s early history.
Pope Francis is known for his simplicity, humility and general concern for the poor and the oppressed. He is also a firm believer in dialogue as a way to settle conflicts and disputes. And, with what is happening in the world right now, Pope Francis prays for an end to international conflicts in his first Christmas message to the world.
By Roberto I. Belda