By Courtney Mares
On Christmas, Pope Francis prayed for Christ to bring light to the instability in Iraq, Lebanon, Venezuela, Yemen, Ukraine, Burkina Faso, and other parts of the world experiencing conflict.
“The Son is born, like a small light flickering in the cold and darkness of the night. That Child, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Word of God made flesh … There is darkness in human hearts, yet the light of Christ is greater still,” Pope Francis said from the center loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 25.
In his “Urbi et Orbi” blessing, Pope Francis said that the light of Christ is greater than the darkness of broken family relationships or the suffering endured in economic, geopolitical, and ecological conflicts.
“May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world. May he bring comfort to the beloved Syrian people who still see no end to the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade,” he said.
“May the Lord Jesus bring light to the Holy Land, where he was born as the Saviour of mankind, and where so many people – struggling but not discouraged – still await a time of peace, security and prosperity. May he bring consolation to Iraq amid its present social tensions, and to Yemen, suffering from a grave humanitarian crisis,” he said.
The pope prayed for the Lebanese people to overcome their current political crisis and to “rediscover their vocation to be a message of freedom and harmonious coexistence for all.” He remembered also Latin America, where he said many nations are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval.
Pope Francis asked for God’s protection for all people who are forced to emigrate due to injustice who endure “unspeakable forms of abuse, enslavement of every kind and torture in inhumane detention camps.”
He prayed for the people of Africa, asking Christ to console those who suffer from violence, natural disasters, and disease.
“May he bring peace to those living in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, torn by continuing conflicts,” the pope said. “And may he bring comfort to those who are persecuted for their religious faith, especially missionaries and members of the faithful who have been kidnapped, and to the victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.”
Pope Francis also issued a special Christmas message for South Sudan together with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Rev. John Chalmers, the former moderator of the Scottish Presbyterian Church:
“We wish to extend to you and to all the people of South Sudan our best wishes for your peace and prosperity, and to assure you of our spiritual closeness as you strive for a swift implementation of the Peace Agreements,” states the message sent to South Sudan’s political leaders, who came to the Vatican for a peacebuilding retreat in April.
“May the Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, enlighten you and guide your steps in the way of goodness and truth, and bring to fulfilment our desire to visit your beloved country,” the message states.
After the pope’s Christmas blessing, the great bell of St. Peter’s Basilica rang out in celebration of Christ’s birth. The campanone bell is only rung on the solemnities of Christmas, Easter, and the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
“May Emmanuel bring light to all the suffering members of our human family. May he soften our often stony and self-centred hearts, and make them channels of his love,” the pope prayed.
Pope Francis called on the 55,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to practice charity and care for the most vulnerable.
“Through our frail hands, may he clothe those who have nothing to wear, give bread to the hungry and heal the sick. Through our friendship, such as it is, may he draw close to the elderly and the lonely, to migrants and the marginalized,” he said.
“On this joyful Christmas Day, may he bring his tenderness to all and brighten the darkness of this world,” Pope Francis said.