Pope calls for peace in Christmas message

The common thread of his Urbi at Orbi address was that change starts in the hearts of individuals

Delivering his traditional Christmas Day message Urbi et Orbi, Pope Francis urged the world to let the light of Christmas pierce the "darkness in human hearts" that leads to religious persecution, social injustice, armed conflicts and migration. The 83-year-old pope called for peace in the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Venezuela, Ukraine and several African countries caught up in conflicts.

The common thread of his address to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square and millions watching or listening around the world was that change starts in the hearts of individuals. "There is darkness in human hearts, yet the light of Christ is greater still," Francis said, as he marked the seventh Christmas of his pontificate. "There is darkness in personal, family and social relationships, but the light of Christ is greater. There is darkness in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts, yet greater still is the light of Christ," he said.

Francis singled out the persecution of Christians by militant groups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, asking God to console those who suffer for their faith. On 1 December at least 14 people were shot dead in an attack on a church in eastern Burkina Faso, where an Islamist insurgency has ignited ethnic and religious tensions.

Francis said that while there were many huge problems in the world, people did not have to look far to correct injustices. They could make a difference in their own communities as a start to healing all the "suffering members of our human family". "May (God) soften our often stony and self-centred hearts, and make them channels of his love. May he bring his smile, through our poor faces, to all the children of the world: to those who are abandoned and those who suffer violence," Francis said.

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