VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis urged peace in the Middle East as tens of thousands gathered to hear his Christmas address Sunday, while offering comfort to victims of terrorism after a year of bloody jihadist attacks.
The 80-year-old Argentine called for guns to fall silent in Syria, saying “far too much blood has been spilled” in the nearly six-year conflict.
And he urged Israelis and Palestinians to “have the courage and the determination to write a new page of history” in his message from the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica to a crowd of 40,000 gathered in the square below which, despite the sunny weather, was far from full.
Earlier on Christmas Eve, Francis urged the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to feel compassion for children, notably victims of war, migration and homelessness, but also those “not allowed to be born.”
Addressing a 10,000-strong crowd late Saturday, the pontiff urged worshippers to celebrate “authentically,” by acknowledging “the fragile simplicity of a small newborn” and “the tender affection of the swaddling clothes.”
“Let us allow the child in the manger to challenge us, but let us also allow ourselves to be challenged by the children of today’s world,” he said, speaking in St. Peter’s Square.
Many children have died this year while attempting the perilous Mediterranean migrant crossing to Europe, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives in 2016 alone.
Thousands of traumatized Syrians including children meanwhile left the former rebel enclave of Aleppo this week after four months of suffocating siege.
Children are “hiding underground to escape bombardment” or “on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants,” the pontiff said, before reiterating his opposition to abortion.