VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis used his traditional Christmas message to call for an end to war and terrorism, and to remember migrants, refugees and those who suffer as a result of “the economic ambitions of the few.”
The pontiff delivered his ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (To the City and to the World) blessing before an estimated 40,000 worshippers who gathered at the Vatican. Crowd numbers were down despite a heightened security presence as major roads were cordoned off around St. Peter’s Square.
Italian authorities have been on high alert since the key suspect in the Berlin Christmas Market attack, which killed 12 people, was gunned down on Friday in a shoot out with police after he fled to Milan.
“Peace to those who have been injured or have lost someone due to brutal acts of terrorism that have spread fear and death in the hearts of so many countries and cities,” the pope said.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, also said Christmas should inspire everyone to help the less fortunate, including migrants, refugees and those swept up by social and economic upheavals.
“Peace to the peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of the few, because of the sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery,” he said.
Speaking from the central loggia at St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope called for peace in the world’s major trouble spots and an immediate end to the conflict in Syria “where far too much blood has been spilled.”
“In the city of Aleppo, site of the most awful battles in recent weeks, it is most urgent that assistance and support be guaranteed to the exhausted civil population, with respect for humanitarian law,” the pope said.
“It is time for weapons to be still forever, and the international community to actively seek a negotiated solution.”
The pope has been particularly outspoken about the conflict in Syria. Earlier this month, he wrote to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad appealing to him to end the conflict, which has killed an estimated 400,000 people, and ensure the rights of civilians. After a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos in April, he brought several Syrian refugees back to Italy with him on the papal jet.
In his Christmas message, the 80-year-old pontiff also remembered those who had suffered from terrorism and war in Iraq, Libya and Yemen and urged Israelis and Palestinians to “write a new page of history” and build peace with “courage and determination.”
Francis also mentioned Nigeria, where “fundamentalist terrorism even exploits children in order to perpetrate horror and death” and called for an end to conflict in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(Material from Reuters is included in this report)