Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to violence in Syria and a resumption of Middle East peace talks yesterday on a Christmas Day marred by a bomb blast at a Catholic Church in Nigeria.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics delivered his twice-yearly Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) message and blessing to tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square on a crisp, but clear day as millions of others watched on television around the world.
At the end of his address, the 84-year-old pope, celebrating the seventh Christmas season of his pontificate, delivered Christmas greetings in 65 languages, including Turkish, Samoan, Arabic, Swahili, Hindi, Urdu and Chinese.
“May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts, which even today stain the Earth with blood,” he said, speaking in Italian from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.
“May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that land where he chose to come into the world and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed,” he said.
At least 5,000 people have been killed in nine months of violence that has rocked the Arab nation in clashes between government forces and protesters calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Saying “let us speak out for those who have no voice,” Benedict also called for more help for those suffering from hunger, food shortages and displacement in the Horn of Africa and for those affected by floods in Thailand and the Philippines.
The pope did not mention a blast at a Catholic church on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital Abuja in his address, which was prepared before news of the explosion arrived in Rome.
In his address, the pope also called for full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While his Christmas Day message took a partly political slant, mentioning some of the world’s flash points, Benedict’s Christmas Eve homily about 14 hours before lamented how the true meaning of the day had been overshadowed by materialism.
In that homily, he urged humanity to see through the superficial glitter and commercialism of the season and rediscover the real significance of the holiday.
“Today, Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity,” he said. “Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.”
“Let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart,” he said.
Benedict urged his listeners at the Mass on Saturday night to find peace in the symbol of the powerless Christ child in a world continually threatened by violence.
He also urged that those marking the holiday in poverty, suffering or far from home not be forgotten.