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Gerard O’ConnellDecember 10, 2023
Pope Francis in a video message released by the Vatican on Dec. 7, 2023. (CNS photo/screen grab, Holy See Press Office)

On the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Pope Francis greeted pilgrims today in St. Peter’s Square, saying that “the commitment to human rights is never ended!” In what appeared to be a reference to the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza, he said, “in relation to human rights, let civilians, hospitals and places of worship be protected, let the hostages be released and let humanitarian aid be guaranteed.”

Following the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 Israelis and included the taking of 240 hostages (138 of whom are still being held captive in Gaza), Israeli bombing in the Gaza enclave has caused the death of more than 17,000 Palestinians, including over 7,000 children and 5,000 women. The bombing has also resulted in the destruction of more than 40 percent of buildings in the Gaza strip, including homes, schools, hospitals and places of Muslim and Christian worship. Israel has also forced some 1.9 million Palestinians to move into the southern area of Gaza, where fuel, food, water and medical supplies are scarce, and has allowed only a limited supply of humanitarian aid to enter the territory.

“Let us continue to pray for the peoples that suffer because of war,” Francis said, mentioning specifically the populations of “the martyred Ukraine, Palestine and Israel.”

“Let us continue to pray for the peoples that suffer because of war,” Francis said, mentioning specifically the populations of “the martyred Ukraine, Palestine and Israel.”

“We are going toward Christmas. Are we able, with the help of God,” he asked, “to take concrete steps to peace? We know it is not easy. Some conflicts have deep historic roots.” However, he said, “we have the witness of men and women who have worked with wisdom and patience for peaceful coexistence. Let their example be followed. Let every effort be made to face and remove the causes of the conflicts.”

“I am near all those who, without fanfare, in concrete daily life, fight and personally pay the price defending the rights of those who do not count,” the pope said.

Pope Francis went on to speak about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan: “I rejoice at the release of a significant number of Armenian and Azeri prisoners,” he said, referring to the release of two Azerbaijanis and 32 Armenian prisoners last Thursday, Dec.7, in that conflict. “I look with great hope at this positive sign for relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, for peace in the southern Caucasus, and I encourage the parties and their leaders to conclude as soon as possible the peace treaty,” he said, referring to the commitment made by the two sides to work toward a peace agreement.

Francis, who appears to have fully recovered from a bout of acute bronchitis that prevented him from taking part in the U.N.-sponsored COP28 climate conference in Dubai at the beginning of December, concluded his message to pilgrims today by reminding them that “In a few days, the work of the COP28 [conference] on climate in Dubai will finish.” He invited people “to pray so that it reaches good results for the care of our common home and the safeguarding of peoples.”

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