Pope Francis has urged the world in his Christmas message on Friday to unite to end atrocities by Islamist militants that he said were causing immense suffering in many countries. “Where God is born, peace is born,” the Pope said. “And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war. Yet precisely where the incarnate Son of God came into the world, tensions and violence persist, and peace remains a gift to be implored and built.”
The plea came on Christmas day in the pope’s annual “Urbi et Orbi” message, meaning “to the City [Rome] and to the World.” In addition to calling generally for peace, Francis endorsed rather specific solutions in some cases. He called, for example, for the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume direct dialogue, and appeared to come close to endorsing a two-state solution to the long-running conflict, saying they should “reach an agreement which will enable the two peoples to live together in harmony.”
Pope Francis also prayed that the U.N. agreement on Syria would succeed in halting that country’s devastating civil war and in remedying the “extremely grave humanitarian situation of its suffering people.” He prayed as well for peace in Libya, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, mentioning in particular Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. In those African countries, some of them wracked by ethnic and political division, Francis said he hoped that “dialogue may lead to a strengthened common commitment to the building of civil societies animated by a sincere spirit of reconciliation and of mutual understanding.”
He deplored recent terrorist attacks in various locations around the world, “particularly the recent massacres which took place in Egyptian airspace, in Beirut, Paris, Bamako and Tunis.” He prayed for children who have been conscripted as soldiers, for the victims of human trafficking, and for the acceptance of migrants and refugees. “Nor may our encouragement be lacking to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, traveling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives,” Francis said. “May God repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees, helping them to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them.”
“May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples.” He was clearly referring to Islamic State militants who have carried out numerous attacks in those countries and destroyed many cultural heritage sites. In October, Islamic State militants blew up the Arch of Triumph, a jewel in the exquisite collection of ruins in the Syrian oasis city of Palmyra. “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he said. “The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.”.
“Even today great numbers of men and women are deprived of their human dignity and, like the child Jesus, suffer cold, poverty, and rejection,” he said. “May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade.”
The Pope’s words were echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas Day address, in which the leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans said Christians in the Middle East faced extinction at the hands of Islamic State. Archbishop Justin Welby said IS was “igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression.” He branded the group “a Herod of today”, in a reference to the ruthless king of Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ.
“They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began,” he said.