By Christopher R. Altieri
Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Monday, Christmas Day, 2017, and called for an end to war and injustice everywhere, in the name of Our Lord, “Prince of Peace” and reconciler of humanity to God the Father. The Pope made his remarks ahead of the urbi et orbi benediction – the traditional blessing given “the city and to the world” on Christmas Day and on other special days throughout the year.
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” Pope Francis said. “On this festive day, let us ask the Lord for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land.”
Pope Francis also called for resumption of good-faith negotiations and renewed international commitment to peace.
“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two States within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders,” he said. “May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by good will to help that afflicted land to find, despite grave obstacles the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited.”
The Pope also prayed specifically for children suffering the ravages of war and the vagaries of political and economic turmoil in several countries around the world. “Today,” he said to thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and to everyone listening around the world via radio, television, satellite and internet stream, “as the winds of war are blowing in our world and an outdated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline, Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the Child and to recognize him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, ‘there is no place in the inn’ (Lk 2:7).”
Among those for whom he prayed were children in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, which he called, a “largely forgotten” conflict “with serious humanitarian implications for its people, who suffer from hunger and the spread of diseases.” The Pope was referring to the terrible civil war in Yemen, which drastically disrupted the lives of more than 22 million people, and brought as many as 8 million people to the brink of starvation, most of them women and children.
The Pope also prayed for the Children of Africa.
“We see Jesus in the children of Africa,” he said, “especially those who are suffering in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Nigeria.”
“We see Jesus in the children worldwide wherever peace and security are threatened by the danger of tensions and new conflicts,” Pope Francis continued, making special mention of the situation on the Korean peninsula,” where the communist North continues to seek to expand its nuclear arsenal and the international community struggles to adopt an approach apt to reach a peaceful resolution to the crisis. “Let us pray that confrontation may be overcome on the Korean peninsula and that mutual trust may increase in the interest of the world as a whole,” Pope Francis said.
The Holy Father then spoke of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, where political stalemate and economic collapse have stressed Venezuelan society almost to the breaking point. “To the Baby Jesus we entrust Venezuela,” Pope Francis prayed, “that it may resume a serene dialogue among the various elements of society for the benefit of all the beloved Venezuelan people.”
The ongoing violent conflict in Ukraine was also on the Holy Father’s mind.
“We see Jesus in children who, together with their families, suffer from the violence of the conflict in Ukraine and its grave humanitarian repercussions,” he went on to say. “We pray that the Lord may soon grant peace to this dear country.”
Pope Francis also said, “We see Jesus in the children of unemployed parents who struggle to offer their children a secure and peaceful future. And in those whose childhood has been robbed and who, from a very young age, have been forced to work or to be enrolled as soldiers by unscrupulous mercenaries.”
The Holy Father also prayed for children who are victims of forced migration, saying, “We see Jesus in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers. Through their eyes we see the drama of all those forced to emigrate and risk their lives to face exhausting journeys that end at times in tragedy.”
The Pope then spoke of the children he met during his recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“[I]t is my hope that the international community will not cease to work to ensure that the dignity of the minority groups present in the region is adequately protected. Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one’s head. May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem.”
Pope Francis concluded his reflection with an appeal to all of us: that we might welcome Christ in our lives and our hearts, and so commit ourselves with new vigor to the work of building a more humane world.
“The sign of Christmas has also been revealed to us,” he said. “‘a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes’ (Lk 2:12). Like the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we welcome in the Baby Jesus the love of God made man for us. And may we commit ourselves, with the help of his grace, to making our world more human and more worthy for the children of today and of the future.”