Pope Francis called for peace and “fraternity” among peoples, as millions across the world celebrated Christmas today.
About 50,000 worshippers gathered at the Vatican to hear the pontiff’s sixth “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) message appealing for peace in conflict zones such as Syria and Yemen, whose populations face some of the world’s most desperate humanitarian crises.
“My wish for a happy Christmas is a wish for fraternity,” he told pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square today, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture. Fraternity among people with different ideas… Fraternity among persons of different religions.”
Francis, the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, had earlier used his mass on Monday night to urge people to curb “insatiable greed”.
The pontiff said he hoped a truce in conflict-ravaged Yemen would end a devastating war that has killed about 10,000 people since 2015 and pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of famine.
“My thoughts turn to Yemen, in the hope that the truce brokered by the international community may finally bring relief to all those children and people exhausted by war and famine,” he said.
The pope also spoke of the war in Syria, which has forced millions from their homes and reduced swathes of the country to rubble.
He called for a “political solution” to the conflict “so that the Syrian people, especially all those who were forced to leave their own lands and seek refuge elsewhere, can return to live in peace in their own country”.
Francis also said he hoped for renewed peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians “that can put an end to a conflict that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love.”
Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, located near Jerusalem but cut off from the city by Israel’s separation barrier, has seen an increase in visitors this season after several down years because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinian tourism officials and hotel operators have reported their strongest season in years.
“This year is much more calm, much better than last year,” said Abeer Nasser, a Palestinian from the nearby town of Beit Sahour celebrating in Bethlehem with her son and daughter.
“Every year I feel more in the mood to celebrate despite the political situation,” the 37-year-old added, referring to the Israeli occupation.
Beyond Bethlehem, Christians worldwide were marking Christmas, with services held from Indonesia to Iraq.