Pope Francis has used his traditional Christmas Day address urging people to overcome their religious and cultural differences to end conflict in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Delivering his sixth “Urbi et Orbi” address to 50,000 people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square on Tuesday, the pope said Jesus Christ had given the world “fraternity” and differences should not be seen as a “detriment or a danger” but “a source of richness”.
“My wish for a happy Christmas is a wish for fraternity,” the pope said. “All of us are brothers and sisters in humanity.”
Just days after Donald Trump, the US president, announced he would withdraw American troops from Syria and urged Saudi Arabia to help rebuild the country, the pope called for an urgent political solution that would allow millions of Syrian refugees to return home.
“May the international community work decisively for a political solution that can put aside divisions and partisan interests, so that the Syrian people, especially all those who were forced to leave their own lands and seek refuge elsewhere, can return to live in peace in their own country,” the pope said.
"Urbi et Orbi" means "to the city and the world".
The 82-year-old pontiff delivered his message as thousands of pilgrims gathered in brilliant sunshine to celebrate the birth of Christ amid tight security at the Vatican.
Last week police in southern Italy arrested a Somali man suspected of having been a member of Islamic State and who had threatened to bomb churches in Italy, including St. Peter’s Basilica.
After appealing for peace in Syria, the pope also called for a resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and a political solution in Yemen.
“My thoughts turn to Yemen, in the hope that the truce brokered by the international community may finally bring relief to all those children and people exhausted by war and famine,” the pope said.
Francis also turned his attention to other hotspots in the world, calling for further rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula and peace in Ukraine which he said was “yearning to regain a lasting peace that is slow to come”.
He also appealed for “social harmony” in Venezuela and reconciliation in Nicaragua.
The pope’s concern for migrants and refugees was not overlooked. He called for an end to conflict in Africa “where millions of people are refugees, or displaced or in need of humanitarian assistance and food security”.
On Christmas Eve the pope expressed his concern about the widening gap between rich and poor and the damage caused by “insatiable greed”.
"An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive," the pope said.