Pope wishes Christmas hope and peace for Mideast

POPVATICAN CITY: Pope Francis focused his concern on those weeping in the world this Christmas, singling out refugees, hostages and others suffering in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine as he prayed for hope and peace Thursday.

Anguish for children who are victims of violence, including in the recent terrorist attack on a Pakistani military school, tempered the pontiff’s traditional Christmas Day message, which he delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Tens of thousands of Romans and tourists crowded into St. Peter’s Square to hear Francis deliver the “Urbi et Orbi” message. (Latin for “to the city and to the world. “)

“Truly there are so many tears this Christmas,” Francis said after noting all the pain and suffering in the world.

The pope lamented that there were vast numbers of children who are “made objects of trade and trafficking” or forced to become soldiers.

Francis began his review of the world’s troubled places by recalling the persecution of ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, along with those from other ethnic and religious groups.

“May Christmas bring them hope,” he said. Referring to refugees and exiles, he prayed: “May indifference be changed into the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter.”

The pope also thanked those courageously helping people infected with Ebola in Africa.

He prayed, too, that those in affluent countries, who are “immersed in worldliness and indifference,” will experience a softening of heart.

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