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Pope Francis laments violence in Gaza, Ukraine during annual Christmas speech and call for peace

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Pope Francis renewed calls for peace and an end to the many violent conflicts around the world, particularly the war in Gaza and the invasion of Ukraine, as he begged for everyone to remember “the voice of the innocent.” 

“Isaiah, who prophesized the prince of peace, spoke about a day in which one nation will not lift up sword against another nation,” Pope Francis said to a crowd of roughly 6,500 followers in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. “He wrote of a day when people will no longer learn the art of war but instead beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” 

“With God’s help, let us make every effort so that day will come,” the pope urged. “May it come in Israel and Palestine, where war is devastating the lives of those people. I embrace all of you, particularly the Christian communities of Gaza, the parish in Gaza and the entire Holy Land.” 

During his Urbi et Orbi speech – meaning “to the city and to the world” – the pope highlighted the suffering of innocent people in the Gaza War conflict, particularly children, whom he called “the little Jesuses of today.” 

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The pope has repeatedly called for a ceasefire, and he renewed his call during his Christmas speech, saying that he bears in his heart “the suffering of the victims of the attack of October 7” and pleaded for the release of all hostages still held by Hamas and increased humanitarian aid for the victims of the conflict.

Pope Francis delivers his Christmas Urbi Et Orbi Blessing and his traditional Christmas Day message from the central balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, on December 25, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

“May there be an end to the fueling of violence and hatred, and may the Palestinian question come to be resolved through sincere and persevering dialogue between the parties, sustained by strong political will and support of the international community,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, let us pray for peace in Palestine and Israel.” 

The pope’s speech opened with a reminder of God’s message and “joy born of being God’s beloved sons and daughters” but soon moved to focus on the conflict, asking, “How many innocents are slaughtered in our world?”

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He spoke of other conflicts, including the ongoing civil war in Syria, violence in Sudan and the invasion of Ukraine. He called for peace for Ukraine and hoped that the people of Ukraine may feel the support of the Christian community. 

Swiss Guards St. Peter's Square

Swiss guards attend Pope Francis’ Christmas Urbi Et Orbi Blessing, on December 25, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican.  (Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

He also prayed for the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with a call for refugees to return to their homes in potential reference to the 120,000 residents of the Republic of Artsakh who were ousted from the region in September. 

“The children whose lives are being devastated by war – to say yes to the Prince of Peace is to say no to war, to every war, even to the mindset of war,” the Pope said. He called war a “journey without a place to go.”

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“To say no to war means saying no to arms, to weapons,” he added, lamenting the weakness and “impulsive” nature of the human heart. He noted that the sale of weapons and arms is on the rise. 

Palestine protests Vatican

People wave Palestinian flags and hold a banner reading “Peace” during the Pope Francis’ Christmas Urbi Et Orbi Blessing at St. Peter’s square on December 25, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican.  (Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

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“How much violence and killing takes place amid deafening silence, unbeknownst to so many?” the pope asked. “People who desire not weapons but bread, who struggle to make ends meet and desire only peace have no idea how many public funds are spent on arms – and yet they should know this.”

The pope also touched on concerns about human trafficking, food shortage and general suffering before leading the gathered thousands in the Angelus prayer. 

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