Francis laments the plight of abused children, hostages and others — while offering a special prayer for those in affluent countries
VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis focused his concern on those weeping in the world this Christmas, singling out refugees, abused children, hostages and others suffering in the Middle East, Africa, Ukraine and elsewhere as he prayed for hope and peace Thursday.
Anguish for children who are mistreated or victims of violence, including those who died in the recent terrorist attack on a Pakistani military school, tempered the pontiff’s traditional Christmas message, which he delivered to a crowd of about 80,000 from a balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Truly, there are so many tears this Christmas,” Francis said, noting all the pain and suffering in the world.
The pope lamented that there were a vast number of children who are “made objects of trade and trafficking” or “abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence” or forced to become soldiers.
Francis also mentioned the persecution of ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, along with those from other ethnic and religious groups.
“May Christmas bring them hope,” he said.
Referring to refugees and exiles, he prayed: “May indifference be changed into closeness, and rejection into hospitality.”
He expressed hope they’d receive humanitarian help to withstand the “rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.”
He denounced hostage-taking in Nigeria and said he hoped reconciliation would prevail over “hatred and violence” in Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have been fighting against government forces in the east of that country.
He prayed for peace in Libya, South Sudan, the Central Africa Republic and Congo and for comfort for “who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea.”
He thanked those courageously helping people infected with the virus in Africa.
While much of his message concerned poor countries, Francis prayed that those who in affluent nations who are “immersed in worldliness and indifference” will experience a softening of heart.
In delivering a final blessing to the crowd, he prayed for God’s “redeeming strength (to) transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.”
“Then we will be able to cry out with joy: ‘Our eyes have seen your salvation,’ ” he said.
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