VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday wished Christmas peace for people scarred by wars and for those who have lost loved ones to terrorism that he said is sowing “fear and death into the hearts of so many countries and cities.”
An estimated 40,000 tourists and Romans calmly endured long lines for security checks to enter St. Peter’s Square. There they got a glimpse of the pope on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world) Christmas day message.
Francis cited those suffering through the Syrian war, especially during the “most awful battles” in Aleppo. He pressed the international community to find a negotiated solution. He urged Israelis and Palestinians to abandon hate and revenge.
He also lamented that in Nigeria “fundamentalist terrorism exploits even children,” a reference to child suicide bombers, and he decried conflicts and tensions in Africa, eastern Ukraine, Myanmar, the Korean peninsula, Colombia and Venezuela.
The heavy security at the Vatican reflected apprehension in much of Europe, which is reeling from extremist attacks. Last week, 12 people died in Berlin when a Tunisian man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group plowed a truck through a crowd at a Christmas market. He was killed a few days later in a shootout in near Milan.
“Peace to those who have lost a person dear to them, or who were wounded, as a result of brutal acts of terrorism, that have sown fear and death in the hearts of so many countries and cities,” the pope said.
Referring to the meaning of Jesus’ birth, Francis said: “Today this message goes out to the ends of the Earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace.”