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Pope Calls for Reconciliation in Annual Christmas Message

  • VOA News

Pope Francis delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and to the world) blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 25, 2015.

Pope Francis delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and to the world) blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 25, 2015.

Pope Francis has called for reconciliation among fractured communities in his annual Christmas Day homily, presiding over a congregation of thousands at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Standing on the central outdoor balcony of the basilica, facing a crowd of tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square below, the pope commented in his traditional Urbi et Orbi message, or "to the city and to the world."

His message has global appeal in a year that saw the rise of the Islamic State group and a flood of outgoing refugees from the Middle East, sectarian conflict in Africa, terrorist attacks in western Europe and the United States, and humanitarian concerns in wealthy nations as refugees from violent conflict and economic distress sought safer, stabler places to live.

The sky was cloudless and blue Friday as Pope Francis told his followers: "Where God is born, hope is born."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, greets the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal during a Christmas Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 25, 2015.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, greets the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal during a Christmas Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 25, 2015.

Speaking Friday to tens of thousands of worshipers gathered in St. Peter's Square under a cloudless blue sky, he said, "Where God is born, hope is born."

He called for resumption of peace in places of conflict such as Israel and the Palestinian territories, and asked that the people might live in harmony with one another.

He said he prays that the United Nations may succeed in halting the conflict in Syria and aiding the humanitarian conflict there.

He called on the international community to work to end atrocities in Libya, Iraq, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa.

The pontiff called attention to recent victims of terrorism in Egypt, Lebanon, France, Mali and Tunisia. He called the people killed in terrorist attacks the "martyrs of today."

Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 24, 2015.

Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 24, 2015.

And he prayed for peace and concord among the peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo, of Burundi, and of South Sudan in hopes that dialogue can lead to "mutual understanding."

Christmas Eve Mass

He also celebrated a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

The 79-year-old Argentine pope rebuked what he called society's "intoxication" with consumerism, pleasure, abundance and wealth.

Francis said Jesus "calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential.''

Children from countries that Francis has visited as pontiff, including Sri Lanka, the Philippines, the United States and, most recently, three African nations, left floral bouquets around a statue of the baby Jesus near the central altar after Francis unveiled and gently kissed the statue.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, greets the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal during a Christmas Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 25, 2015.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, greets the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal during a Christmas Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 25, 2015.

Elsewhere in the world, the Christmas Day celebration is especially poignant in the town of Bethlehem in the West Bank, where the Bible says Jesus was born.

Crowds of worshipers are subdued this year due to violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians over the past three months.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited the traditional birthplace at the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve, and worshipers gathered to celebrate midnight Mass.

Manger Square

The highest-ranking Roman Catholic leader in the region, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, led a procession from his headquarters in Jerusalem to Manger Square, crossing through a military checkpoint at the Israeli-built concrete security barrier to reach the church, which is in Palestinian territory.

A nun prays inside the Grotto at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2015.

A nun prays inside the Grotto at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2015.

In his midnight homily, Twal expressed compassion for victims of terrorism everywhere, for Israelis and Palestinians, and for refugees fleeing violence in Syria.

He prayed that the world "be a safe dwelling place and refuge, where justice prevails over rivalry and conflict, mercy over vengeance, charity over hatred."

Twal also led Christmas Day Mass at the site.

Christmas came earliest to people in Asia and the Pacific. Some went to church; some relaxed at home; others traveled for celebrations with family and friends.

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