Following his blistering condemnation of the Vatican bureaucracy, Pope Francis' Christmas message urged peace and tenderness as he delivered his "Urbi et Orbi" — to the city and the world — from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. The pope focused on those suffering this Christmas, singling out the plight of refugees, hostages and other victims of brutal conflicts in the most troubled parts of the world — namely, the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine.
In his message, the Pope said to the tens of thousands of people gathered at St. Peter's Square, and the number of TV cameras broadcasting his speech around the world:
Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us? Or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel?
Pope Francis called out the terrorist group ISIS — single-handedly responsible for the unprecedented suffering of so many in the Middle East this year — denouncing it for the massacre and displacement of Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and countless others in Syria and Iraq who do not share the group's ideologies, adding:
I ask him, the savior of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.
Besides Syria and Iraq, the pope also spared word in his Christmas message for those held hostage or killed in Nigeria, and, characteristic of his former efforts to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, urged dialogue between both parties, reported BBC News.
But perhaps most touching of all is his phone call to an Iraqi refugee camp as he spoke to refugees fleeing from ISIS militants. To the mostly-Christian refugees at the camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Irbil in northern Iraq, the Pope likened them to Jesus, forced to flee their homes because there was no place for them:
You're like Jesus on this night, and I bless you and am close to you. I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas.
His gentle, sympathetic message to Catholics is a stark difference to his scathing criticism of the Vatican Curia, the Holy See's central administration, which governs the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church, on Monday. In his strongest rebuke of the Vatican yet, Francis castigated the cardinals, bishops and priests who serve him, accusing them "spiritual Alzheimers," using their Vatican careers to accumulate wealth and power, and of living "hypocritical" double lives and neglecting their purpose as joyful men of God.
His Christmas eve address to the masses, however, highlighted his concern for the sufferings in the world. Reflecting on a rough 2015, Francis said:
How much the world needs tenderness today! God's patience, God's closeness, God's tenderness.
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