VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis offered Christmas wishes Wednesday for a better world, praying for protection for Christians under attack, battered women and trafficked children, peace in the Middle East and Africa, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict around the globe.
Francis delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (Latin for “to the city and to the world”) speech from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to more than 70,000 cheering tourists, pilgrims and Romans in the square below.
In his first Christmas message since being elected pontiff in March, he asked for all to share in the song of Christmas angels, “for every man or woman … who hopes for a better world, who cares for others,” humbly.
Among places ravaged by conflict, Francis singled out Syria, which saw its third Christmas during civil war; South Sudan; the Central African Republic; Nigeria; and Iraq.
In Iraq on Wednesday, militants targeted Christians in two attacks, including a bomb that exploded near a church during Christmas Mass in Baghdad. The separate bombings killed dozens of people.
The Vatican has been trying to raise concern in the world for persecution and attacks on Christians in parts of the Middle East and Africa.
“Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted in your name,” Francis said.
Adding an off-the-cuff remark, Francis said he was also inviting non-believers to join their desire for peace with everyone else.
The pope also prayed that God “bless the land where you chose to come into the world and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Francis then explained his concept of peace.
“True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions,” the pope said.
“Peace calls for daily commitment,” Francis said. Recalling the hundreds of migrants who have drowned this year while trying to reach European shores, including many close to the Italian island of Lampedusa, Francis prayed that refugees receive hope, consolation and assistance.
He added that “our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars, but we think, too, of the elderly, of battered women” and others.
In another break with tradition, the Argentine-born Francis stuck to Italian for his Christmas greetings, forsaking a custom of wishing happy holidays in dozens of languages to the crowd below the balcony.
In his speech, Pope Francis also recalled the victims of natural disasters, especially Filipinos suffering from the recent typhoon in their homeland.