Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis delivered his message for Christmas, "the most precious gift God gave us," from the central loggia of St Peter's Basilica. This was followed by his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) blessing. Some 60,000 people had gathered in St Peter's Square to welcome Francis’ Merry Christmas, along with units of the Italian military and Swiss Guard.
In his message, the pontiff emphasised that Jesus’ birth is a day of light, peace, mercy and hope for the many parts of the world suffering from war and violence, for all those who are deprived of their dignity and for Christians who are persecuted.
On the day "in which God the Father revealed his immense tenderness to humanity," the pope turned his thoughts to the tragedies still unfolding in Israel and Palestine, as well as Iraq, Yemen and Sub-Saharan Africa, Ukraine and Colombia. Yet, he also talked about the hope for peace generated by agreements for Syria and Libya, and by those “who endeavour generously to assist and accommodate the many migrants and refugees”.
"Christ,” the pope noted, “was born for us; let us rejoice in the day of our salvation! Let us open our hearts to receive the grace of this day, which is Christ himself. Jesus is the bright 'day' that has arisen on the horizon of humanity. [It is the] Day of mercy, in which God the Father revealed his immense tenderness to humanity. [It is the] Day of light that scatters the darkness of fear and anguish. [It is the] Day of Peace, in which it becomes possible to meet, talk, and especially reconcile. [It is a] Day of joy, a ‘great joy’ for the small and humble, for all the people (cf. Lk, 2:10).
“On this day, from the Virgin Mary, was born Jesus, the Saviour. The crib makes us see the ‘sign’ that God has given us ‘an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’ (Lk, 2:12).
“Like the shepherds in Bethlehem, we too go to see this sign, this event, which is renewed every year in the Church. Christmas is an event that is renewed in every family, in every parish, in every community that welcomes the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ.
“Like Mary, the Church shows everyone the ‘sign’ of God: the child that she carried in her womb and gave birth to, who is the Son of the Highest because he comes ‘through the Holy Spirit’ (Mt, 1:20). For this, He is the Saviour, because he is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (cf. Jn, 1:29).
“Together with the shepherds, let us bow before the Lamb, let us worship the goodness of God made flesh, and let the tears of repentance fill our eyes and wash our hearts. We all need it. He alone, He alone can save us. Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many kinds of evil, some of them monstrous, that generate selfishness within it. God's grace can convert hearts and open ways out of humanly insoluble situations.
“Where God is born, hope is born. He brings hope. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no room for hatred and war. Yet where the Son of God made flesh came into the world, tensions and violence continue, and peace is still a gift to be invoked and built.
“May Israelis and Palestinians resume direct talks and come to an agreement that will allow the two peoples to live together in harmony, overcoming a conflict that has long opposed them, with serious repercussions for the entire region.
“We ask the Lord that through the agreement reached at the United Nations may the clash of arms fall silent as soon as possible in Syria and relieve the grave humanitarian situation of its exhausted people. It is equally urgent that the agreement in Libya receive everyone’s support to overcome the serious divisions and violence plaguing the country.
“May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed towards ending atrocities, both in these [aforementioned] countries as well as in Iraq, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, which are still claiming many victims, causing immense suffering and not sparing even the historical and cultural heritage of entire nations. My thoughts also go to those affected by heinous acts of terrorism, particularly in the recent massacres that took place over Egypt’s skies, as well as in Beirut, Paris, Bamako and Tunis.
“To our brothers and sisters, persecuted in many parts of the world because of their faith, may the Baby Jesus bring consolation and strength. They are our martyrs today.
“We ask for peace and harmony for the dear people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan so as to boost, through dialogue, the shared commitment to build up civil society, animated by a sincere spirit of reconciliation and mutual understanding.
“May Christmas bring real peace even to the Ukraine, provide relief to those affected by the consequences of the conflict and inspire the will to fulfil agreements, restoring harmony to the whole country.
“May the joy of this day enlighten the efforts of the Colombian people so that, animated by hope, the commitment to pursue desired peace may continue.
“Where God is born, hope is born. Where hope is born, people find again their dignity. Yet, even today scores of men and women are deprived of their human dignity. Like Baby Jesus, they suffer from cold, poverty and rejection from people. May today our closeness reach the most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer violence, and the victims of human and drug trafficking.
“May our comfort never fail for those fleeing poverty or war, travelling in conditions that are too often inhumane and often at the risk of their life. May abundant blessings be rewarded to those, individuals or States, who endeavour generously to assist and accommodate the many migrants and refugees, by helping them to build a dignified future for themselves and their loved ones and integrate into the societies that receive them.
“On this day of celebration, may the Lord restore hope to those who have no work, and they are many, and support the efforts of those who have public responsibilities in the political and economic fields to do their utmost to pursue the common good and protect the dignity of every human life.
“Where God is born, mercy flourishes. It is the most precious gift that God gives us, especially in this jubilee year, in which we are called to discover the tenderness our Heavenly Father has towards each of us. May the Lord especially enable those in prison to experience his merciful love that heals wounds and overcomes evil.
“And so today we rejoice together in the day of our salvation. Contemplating the crib, we fix our gaze on Jesus’ open arms that show us God’s merciful embrace, as we listen to the cry of the child who whispers: ‘For the sake of my brothers and friends I say, ‘Peace be with you’ (Ps 121 : 8)."
After the blessing, the pontiff addressed a final greeting to those present. “To you, dear brothers and sisters, who have come from all over the world to this square, and to those who are connected from various countries via radio, television and other media communication, I address my most cordial greeting.
“Since it is the Christmas of the Holy Year of Mercy, I wish everyone to be able to welcome into their lives the mercy of God, who gave us Jesus Christ, to be merciful towards our brethren. Thus, we shall make peace grow! Merry Christmas!"