Pope Francis used his Christmas message Sunday to lament the "icy winds of war” buffeting humanity and to make an impassioned plea for an immediate end to the fighting in Ukraine, a 10-month-old conflict he decried as “senseless.”
At noon local time, Francis delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi'' -- which is Latin for "'to the city and to the world” -- speech from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
Tens of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and residents of Rome crowded into St. Peter’s Square to listen to the pontiff and to receive his blessing.
Francis also cited long-running conflicts in the Middle East, including in the Holy Land, “where in recent months violence and confrontations have increased, bringing death and injury in their wake.” In addition, he prayed for a lasting truce in Yemen and for reconciliation in Iran and Myanmar.
He lamented that on Christmas, the “path of peace” is blocked by social forces that include “attachment to power and money, pride, hypocrisy, falsehood.”
“Indeed, we must acknowledge with sorrow that, even as the Prince of Peace is given to us, the icy winds of war continue to buffet humanity," Francis said.
“If we want it to be Christmas, the birth of Jesus and of peace, let us look to Bethlehem and contemplate the face of the child who is born for us,'' he said. ”And in that small and innocent face, let us see the faces of all those children who, everywhere in the world, long for peace."
Francis urged the faithful to remember the millions of Ukrainians who were without electricity or heating Sunday because of Russian attacks on energy infrastructure, as well as the millions more living as refugees abroad or displaced within their country since the Feb. 24 invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Let us also see the faces of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes due to the devastation caused by 10 months of war,” the pontiff said.
The pope prayed that the Lord will “enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war!”
“On this day, as we sit around a well-spread table, may we not avert our gaze from Bethlehem, a town whose name means ‘house of bread,’ but think of all those, especially the children, who go hungry while huge amounts of food daily go to waste and resources are being spent on weapons.”
"The war in Ukraine has further aggravated this situation, putting entire peoples at risk of famine, especially in Afghanistan and in the countries of the Horn of Africa,'' Francis said.
Early in the way, sea mines and a Russian naval blockade of Ukraine's ports choked off shipments from the Black Sea ports of Ukraine, one of the world's largest producers of grain and corn. An agreement brokered by Turkey and the U.N.has sought to address the problem.
Pope Francis decried war, poverty and consumerism in Christmas Eve mass
At a Christmas Eve mass on Saturday evening, Pope Francis rebuked those “ravenous” for wealth and power at the expense of the vulnerable, including children, in a homily decrying war, poverty and consumerism.
In the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis presided over the Christmas Eve Mass attended by about 7,000 faithful, including tourists and pilgrims, who flocked to the church on a warm evening and took their place behind rows of white-robed pontiffs.
Francis drew lessons from the humility of Jesus’ first hours of life in a manger.
“While animals feed in their stalls, men and women in our world, in their hunger for wealth and power, consume even their neighbors, their brothers and sisters,” the pontiff lamented. “How many wars have we seen! And in how many places, even today, are human dignity and freedom treated with contempt!”
“As always, the principal victims of this human greed are the weak and the vulnerable,’’ said Francis, who didn’t cite any specific conflict or situation.
“This Christmas, too, as in the case of Jesus, a world ravenous for money, power and pleasure does not make room for the little ones, for the so many unborn, poor and forgotten children,’’ the pope said, reading his homily with a voice that sounded tired and almost hoarse. “I think above all of the children devoured by war, poverty and injustice.”
Still, the pontiff exhorted people to take heart.
“Do not allow yourself to be overcome by fear, resignation or discouragement.” Jesus’ lying in a manger shows where “the true riches in life are to be found: not in money and power, but in relationships and persons.”
Remarking on the “so much consumerism that has packaged the mystery” of Christmas, Francis said there was a danger the day's meaning could be forgotten.
But, he said, Christmas focuses attention on “the problem of our humanity — the indifference produced by the greedy rush to possess and consume.”
“Jesus was born poor, lived poor and died poor,” Francis said. “He did not so much talk about poverty as live it, to the very end, for our sake.”
Francis urged people to “not let this Christmas pass without doing something good.”
When the Mass ended, the pope, pushed in a wheelchair by an aide, moved down the basilica with a life-sized statue of Baby Jesus on his lap and flanked by several children carrying bouquets. The statue then was placed in a manger in a creche scene in the basilica.
Francis, 86, has been using a wheelchair to navigate long distances due to a painful knee ligament and a cane for shorter distances.
Traditionally, Catholics mark Christmas Eve by attending Mass at midnight. But over the years, the starting time at the Vatican has crept earlier, reflecting the health or stamina of popes and then the pandemic.
Two years ago, the start of Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica was moved up to 19:30 CET to allow faithful to get home before for a nighttime curfew imposed by the Italian government as a measure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Although virtually all pandemic-triggered restrictions have long been lifted in Italy, the Vatican kept to the early start time.
During Saturday evening's service, a choir sang hymns. Clusters of potted red poinsettia plants near the altar contrasted with the cream-colored vestments of the pontiff.