In his Christmas message, Pope Francis called for immediate peace in the Gaza war and a lasting solution to the Middle East conflict at the negotiating table. "I beg that the military operations with their horrific consequences of innocent civilian casualties be stopped," said the head of the Catholic Church on Monday in front of tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square in Rome. Francis also called for peace in other conflict regions such as Ukraine, Syria and the Sahel. At the same time, he condemned the arms industry's business.
After his speech, the head of a total of 1.3 billion Catholics gave the Urbi et Orbi blessing, i.e. the city and the world. Francis had previously drawn attention to the fate of the people in the Middle East during the Christmas mass on Christmas Eve.
Christmas will be celebrated very quietly in the Holy Land this year because of the Gaza war between Israel and the Islamist Hamas. There are hardly any tourists in Bethlehem in the West Bank - the birthplace of Jesus Christ, according to tradition - and Jerusalem.
The Pope said in his address: "Let us not continue to incite violence and hatred, but bring the Palestinian question to a solution through a sincere and persistent dialogue between the parties, supported by strong political will and support the international community." At the same time, he demanded that Hamas release all hostages. Francis described their attack on Israel on October 7 as “despicable.” He called on Israel to allow more aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip.
The pontiff also addressed other conflict regions in his speech, but only relatively briefly. Regarding the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, which will soon last two years, he said: "With my eyes firmly fixed on the baby Jesus, I pray for peace for Ukraine. We once again express our spiritual and human closeness to its tormented people." Francis also recalled that many conflicts in the world do not receive much attention. "How many armed massacres take place in deafening silence without many people knowing about them!"
The 87-year-old, who has been at the head of the Catholic Church for more than a decade, also drew a comparison with abortions. "How many massacres of innocents there are in the world: in the womb; on the routes of the desperate looking for hope; in the lives of so many children whose childhood is destroyed by war." Francis is known as a strict opponent of abortion. He has also described abortions as “murder”.
In his Christmas speech, the pontiff also castigated the activities of the arms industry, which makes huge profits from wars and conflicts. “To say no to war, you have to say no to weapons,” Francis said. "For if the man whose heart is unstable and wounded has instruments of death in his hands, sooner or later he will use them." The Pope spoke of “the machinations of evil that oppose the divine light, in the shadow of hypocrisy and secrecy.” The interests and profits of the “masterminds of the wars” must be made public.
The Pope gave the blessing while standing on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. He remained seated during the speech. The 87-year-old has been struggling with his health for some time, including a knee problem.