VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis offered a Christmas wish Tuesday for fraternity among people of different nations, cultures, faiths, races or ideas.
The long war in Syria, famine amid warfare in Yemen, social strife in Venezuela and Nicaragua, conflicts in Ukraine and tensions on the Korean Peninsula were among the pope's concerns in his Christmas Day message, which he read from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
Addressing some 50,000 tourists, pilgrims and Romans who flocked to St. Peter's Square on a mild, sunny day, Francis said the universal message of Christmas is that "God is a good Father and we are all brothers and sisters."
"This truth is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity," Francis said in the traditional papal "Urbi et Orbi" (Latin for "to the city and the world") message. He called for that spirit among individuals of "every nation and culture" as well as among people "with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another."
"Our differences, then, are not a detriment or a danger; they are a source of richness," Francis said.
Francis prayed that all religious minority groups have their right to religious freedom respected, noting that some Christians were celebrating Christmas "in difficult, if not hostile, situations."
Communist China is witnessing a systematic suppression of religion, including some restrictions on Christmas celebrations this year. The government's suppression campaign includes re-education camps for Uighur Muslims and a crackdown on Christian churches.
Without specifying religions or countries, Francis prayed for "all those people who experience ideological, cultural and economic forms of colonization and see their freedom and identity compromised."
Francis urged the international community to find a political solution that "can put aside divisions and partisan interests" and end the war in Syria. He said he hoped that an internationally brokered truce for Yemen would bring relief to that country's people, especially children "exhausted by war and famine."
He encouraged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians to end conflict "that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love."
In Africa, Francis recalled the millions fleeing warfare or in need of food, and he prayed for "a new dawn of fraternity to arise over the entire continent."
Francis urged Venezuelans to "work fraternally for the country's development and to aid the most vulnerable." Millions of Venezuelans are fleeing their country's economic and humanitarian crisis in what has become the largest exodus in modern Latin American history, according to the United Nations.
On Monday night, the 82-year-old pope celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. There he rejected consumerism, declaring that "the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity."
The addresses were reminiscent of his remarks last year. On Christmas Eve 2017, he focused on the "worldliness" that he said had taken Christmas hostage, while his Christmas Day 2017 speech made clear his concern that serenity was sorely lacking as the "winds of war" were blowing.
The pope spoke this year in a time when nationalism and a suspicion of migrants are gaining traction across much of the globe, even in Italy, which surrounds Vatican City.
Europeans promoting a nationalist agenda have often called it a defense of Europe's Christian roots. The pope disputed that idea on Tuesday.
"Without the fraternity that Jesus Christ has bestowed on us," the pope said, "our efforts for a more just world fall short, and even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty."
Information for this article was contributed by Frances D'Emilio of The Associated Press and by Jason Horowitz of The New York Times.
A Section on 12/26/2018
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