Pope Francis made a pressing, heartfelt appeal for peace in 14 countries, and on four continents, in his Christmas message urbi et orbi (to the city and the world). In a special way he called for the silencing of weapons in Syria and the provision of urgent assistance to the martyred people of Aleppo.
Francis used the word peace no less than 20 times in his Christmas message, which he delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, on a cold, sunny day, to 40,000 pilgrims in St Peter’s Square and to an estimated global audience of 2 billion people.
He declared that peace is possible in this conflict-torn world thanks to “the power of the child,” who was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. This power, he said, “is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love.” It is “the power which gives new birth, pardons faults, reconciles enemies and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God.” This “power of love,” he said, “led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man” and “to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead.” Moreover, “it is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.”
Jesus’ “message of peace” is destined for “all peoples,” he said, and “especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace.”
In a tour d’horizon, Francis first turned his gaze to the Middle East. He called for an end to the fighting in Syria and especially in Aleppo, “site of the most awful battles in recent weeks,” where “it is most urgent that assistance and support be guaranteed to the exhausted civil populace, with respect for humanitarian law.” He appealed to the international community—by which he means, in the first place, the United Nations—“to actively seek a negotiated solution, so that civil coexistence can be restored in the country.”
Next, he called for peace in the Holy Land, where conflict has raged for over 60 years. He prayed that Israelis and Palestinians “may have the courage and the determination to write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build together a future of mutual understanding and harmony.” He prayed, too, for Iraq, Libya and Yemen that are suffering from war and “the brutality of terrorism,” that they may again “find unity and concord.”
Francis prayed for peace “in various parts of Africa” and especially Nigeria, “where fundamentalist terrorism exploits even children to perpetrate horror and death.” Appealing for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—two countries he may visit in 2017—he prayed for the “healing of divisions” there and urged people to “prefer the culture of dialogue to the mindset of conflict.”
He asked the Child Jesus to grant peace to the people suffering from conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and emphasized “the urgent need” to bring relief to them and called for the full implementation of the peace accords reached at Minsk over a year ago.
The first Latin American pope then turned to his home continent and prayed for peace in Colombia and Venezuela. Ten days ago, he brought together the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and the country’s ex-president and opponent of the peace process, Senator Alvarez Uribe, to encourage them to work together for harmony in the country, and today he prayed for the Colombian people as they “seek “to embark on a new and courageous path of dialogue and reconciliation.” He prayed that Venezuelans, too, may have the courage to follow suit and “undertake the necessary steps to put an end to current tensions and build together a future of hope for the whole population.”
Looking at Asia, which he will visit for the third time in 2017, Francis prayed that Myanmar may “consolidate peaceful coexistence” and, helped by the international community, “may provide necessary protection and humanitarian assistance to all who gravely need it.” He appealed too for overcoming the new tensions in the Korean peninsula through “a renewed spirit of cooperation.”
Terrorist attacks have hit the world in recent years, most recently in Germany and Turkey, and today Francis not only prayed for peace for all who lost dear ones in “brutal acts of terrorism,” he also prayed that peace may reach the hearts of those who “have sown fear and death” in so many lands.
Today, too, the pope of the poor prayed for peace in “a real and concrete way” for the “abandoned and excluded,” for those who “suffer hunger” and “the victims of violence,” for “exiles, migrants and refugees,” as well as for the victims of human trafficking, social unrest, earthquakes and natural disasters. Moreover, he implored the Child Jesus to give peace to “all who suffer because of the economic ambitions of the few, because of the sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery.”
On this special day on which Christians celebrate the fact that God became a child, Pope Francis prayed especially for children—as he had done in his homily the previous night, and especially “those deprived of the joys of childhood because of hunger, wars or the selfishness of adults.”
He concluded by wishing peace to all “men and women of goodwill, who work quietly and patiently each day, in their families and in society, to build a more humane and just world, sustained by the conviction that only with peace is there the possibility of a more prosperous future for all.”