VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered Christmas wishes Wednesday for a better world, praying for protection for Christians under attack, battered women and trafficked children, peace in the Middle East and Africa, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict around the globe.
Francis delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (Latin for “to the city and to the world”) speech from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to more than 70,000 cheering tourists, pilgrims and Romans in the square below.
In his first Christmas message since being elected pontiff, he asked for all to share in the song of Christmas angels, “for every man or woman … who hopes for a better world, who cares for others,” humbly.
Among places ravaged by conflict, Francis singled out Syria, which saw its third Christmas during civil war; South Sudan; the Central African Republic; Nigeria; and Iraq.
The Vatican has been trying to raise concern in the world for persecution and attacks on Christians in parts of the Middle East and Africa.
“Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted in your name,” Francis said.
Adding an off-the-cuff remark, Francis said he was also inviting non-believers to join their desire for peace with everyone else.
The pope also prayed that God “bless the land where you chose to come into the world and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Francis then explained his concept of peace.
“True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions,” the pope said. “Peace calls for daily commitment,” Francis said, reading the pages of his speech as they were ruffled by a chilly wind.
Francis also spoke of the lives of everyday people, especially those struggling for a better life.
Wearing a plain white cassock, Francis presented a sharp contrast in appearance to the pope who stood on the same balcony on Christmas exactly a year ago. Then Benedict XVI, who was soon to stun the world by retiring, read his Christmas speech while dressed in a crimson, ermine-trimmed cape.