Pope Francis used his annual Christmas message to call for an end to conflicts throughout the world, mentioning particularly Christians in the Middle East suffering a “brutal persecution” and many children in the region who he said have been “massacred under bombing.”
Taking a particularly somber note to the message, Francis made reference to many global conflicts: from those suffering horrific violence from the so-called Islamic State, to the continuing crisis in Ukraine, to many different clashes on the African continent including South Sudan.
But Francis seemed to take his most personal tone when mentioning the many child victims of violence around the world. Remembering the child Jesus whose birth Christians celebrate at Christmas, Francis said his thoughts on the holy day “go to all children today killed and mistreated… deprived of the generous love of their parents and buried in the selfishness of a culture that doesn’t love life” and to “those children displaced because of wars and persecution, abused and exploited under our eyes and our silent complicity.”
Francis said his thoughts also go to “children massacred in the bombing, even there where the Son of God was born.” “Even today, they cry helplessly silent under the sword of many Herods,” said Francis. “Truly, many tears there are this Christmas together with the tears of Baby Jesus!”
Francis’ mention of turning swords into ploughshares is a reference to the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who wrote of a time when the world’s nations will dismantle their weapons and turn them into tools of peace. The passage is used frequently by Christian peace activists.
In his message to tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Francis spoke of “our brothers and sisters” in Iraq and Syria”for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.”
“May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world,” said the pontiff. “May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.”
Extract from article by Joshua J. McElwee, NCR Vatican correspondent.