Pope Francis wants to bring hope to Christians and other ethnic and religious groups suffering “brutal persecution” in Iraq and Syria.
The Pope used his Christmas Day blessing, “Urbi et Orbi,” to draw attention to displaced children and adults in the Middle East “who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict,” he said, in a reference to the Syrian civil war and increased instability in Iraq with the rise of ISIS.
The pontiff appealed for compassion for refugees “so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter.”
Tens of thousands gathered Thursday in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to hear the pontiff’s blessing, which is customarily global in nature. “Urbi et Orbi” is Latin, meaning “to the city (Rome) and to the world.”
The message comes a day after Francis delivered his second midnight Mass as Pope.
The Pope has used his influence as the spiritual leader of all Catholics around the world to affect political outcomes this year. He played a key role in a historic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations this month and urged religious tolerance during a visit to Turkey in November.
His blessing Thursday included hope for peaceful resolutions of other conflicts around the world. He prayed for reconciliation in Ukraine and for peace in Nigeria, where Islamic militants are killing and kidnapping people in the northern part of the African country.
“May Christ the Savior give peace to Nigeria, where more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed,” he said. He also noted other African countries dealing with a rise in Islamic militant attacks and those fighting the Ebola crisis.
“Truly there are so many tears this Christmas,” he said.
Making a special appeal on behalf of youth, he said, “May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers.”
The Pope also addressed last week’s school massacre in Pakistan in which Taliban militants gunned down students.
“May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery,” he said.
Francis called on Christians to embrace their faith and reject selfishness.
“May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference.”