Pope Fran­cis calls in Christ­mas mes­sage for unity against mil­i­tant atroc­i­ties

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Philip Pul­lella

Pope Fran­cis urged the world in his Christ­mas mes­sage on Fri­day to unite to end atroc­i­ties by Is­lamist mil­i­tants that he said were caus­ing im­mense suf­fer­ing in many coun­tries.

Se­cu­rity was tight at the Vat­i­can as Fran­cis, mark­ing the third Christ­mas since his elec­tion in 2013, read his tra­di­tional Christ­mas Day “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) ad­dress from the cen­tral bal­cony of St. Peter’s Basil­ica.

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple had to have their bags checked as they en­tered the Vat­i­can area and then go through air­port-style screen­ing if they wanted to en­ter St. Peter’s Square.

Counter-ter­ror­ist po­lice with ma­chine guns dis­creetly pa­trolled the area in un­marked vans with dark win­dows. Af­ter call­ing for an end to the civil wars in Syria and Libya, the pope said: “May the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity be unan­i­mously di­rected to end­ing the atroc­i­ties which in those coun­tries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Ye­men and sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, even now reap nu­mer­ous vic­tims, cause im­mense suf­fer­ing and do not even spare the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural pat­ri­mony of en­tire peo­ples.”

He was clearly re­fer­ring to Is­lamic State mil­i­tants who have car­ried out nu­mer­ous at­tacks in those coun­tries and de­stroyed many cul­tural her­itage sites. In Oc­to­ber, Is­lamic State mil­i­tants blew up the Arch of Tri­umph, a jewel in the ex­quis­ite col­lec­tion of ru­ins in the Syr­ian oa­sis city of Palmyra.

The pon­tiff con­demned re­cent “bru­tal acts of ter­ror­ism,” in­clud­ing the Novem­ber 13 at­tacks by Is­lamist mil­i­tants that killed 130 peo­ple in Paris, and the down­ing of a Rus­sian plane over Egypt’s Si­nai penin­sula that killed 224 peo­ple on Oc­to­ber 31. Both were claimed by Is­lamic State.

“Only God’s mercy can free hu­man­ity from the many forms of evil, at times mon­strous evil, which self­ish­ness spawns in our midst,” he said. “The grace of God can con­vert hearts and of­fer mankind a way out of hu­manly in­sol­u­ble sit­u­a­tions.”

He called for peace be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans in the area where Je­sus was born. “Where peace is born, there is no longer room for ha­tred and for war. Yet pre­cisely where the in­car­nate Son of God came into the world, ten­sions and violence per­sist, and peace re­mains a gift to be im­plored and built,” he said.

He asked God to bring con­so­la­tion and strength to Chris­tians who are be­ing per­se­cuted around the world and called for peace in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Bu­rundi, South Su­dan and Ukraine.

Pope Fran­cis waves dur­ing the “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World) Christ­mas mes­sage from the bal­cony over­look­ing St. Peter’s Square at the

Vat­i­can on De­cem­ber 25, 2015. (Reuters/Osser­va­tore Ro­mano)

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