Pope Francis has urged people of all religions and cultures to unite to fight modern slavery and human trafficking. In his first Mass of 2015, he said that everyone had a God-given right to be free.
The service at St. Peter’s Basilica marks the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace. This year’s theme is “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters.”
“All of us are called to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join our forces,” he said.
The Argentine pope has made defence of migrants and workers a central issue of his papacy. At a Vespers service on New Year’s Eve, he condemned administrators and criminals in Rome accused of pocketing public funds meant to help poor migrants, urging a “spiritual and moral renewal”.
The second global slavery index released in November by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based human rights group, estimated that almost 36 million people were living as slaves, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or born into servitude.
After Mass, the pope delivered his traditional New Year’s Day noon address to tens of thousands of people, most of whom took part in peace marches to the Vatican.
“Peace is always possible but we have to seek it. Let us pray for peace,” he told the crowd of people carrying balloons and banners with peace slogans.
Meanwhile Iraqi Christians attended a morning Mass at St George Chaldean Church in Baghdad’s eastern al-Ghadeer neighbourhood on Thursday, at the start of the New Year.
Dozens of families filled the pews for the service, saying prayers for the thousands of displaced Christians in the country.
Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Christians have frequently been the target of attacks by Islamic extremists, forcing tens of thousands to flee.