Pope Francis has denounced the “brutal persecution” of religious and ethnic minorities, in his traditional Christmas Day address.
In his second “Urbi et Orbi” – to the city and the world – Christmas message, the pontiff highlighted the plight of victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq.
“Too many people are being held hostage or massacred” in Nigeria, he added.
Pope Francis also urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and condemned Taliban attacks in Pakistan.
Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter’s Square to hear the Argentine Pope deliver his annual message.
He said Christians in Iraq and Syria had endured conflict for too long, and “together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution”.
“May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world,” the Pope said.
Thousands of tourists and pilgrims then walked the short distance to St Peter’s Square. They looked up to the balcony of the Basilica. Those at the back looked at video screens set up on either side of the square.
The crowd cheered as the Pope stepped out to deliver his Christmas message to the city and the world. He spoke quietly in Italian. He called for peace in a number of conflicts – in the Middle East and Africa in particular.
The Pope’s calls for peace are not new. Throughout the year, he delivers regular appeals for an end to conflict during his Sunday Angelus blessing given from the window of his official apartment in the Vatican.
On Christmas Day, the Pope makes the same call. But his stage – and his audience – are much bigger.In his Christmas Day address, he also asked for peace in Ukraine, Nigeria, in Libya, South Sudan and other parts of Africa.
He called for comfort for the families of the 132 children killed in a Taliban attack in Pakistan last week – and for the victims of the Ebola epidemic.
On Wednesday he made a surprise telephone call to refugees in a camp near Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.
“You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either,” he told them.
Advances in Iraq by Islamic State militants have forced tens of thousands of Christians and people from other religious minorities to flee.