Pope Francis uses traditional Christmas Day message to address damage done by controversial Trump speech two weeks ago.
The pope has reinforced calls for a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in his traditional Christmas Day message delivered just over two weeks after the US president, Donald Trump, inflamed tensions in the region.
Speaking before the faithful in St Peter’s Square in Rome, Francis said the children of the Middle East continued “to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians”.
This month, Trump fulfilled his controversial election pledge by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, enraging Palestinians who also want the city to be the capital of their future state.
Four days ago, more than 120 countries backed a UN resolution urging the US to reverse its decision.
Appealing for peace specifically in Jerusalem and more widely in the Holy Land, the pope said: “Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”
He asked for God’s support for “all those in the international community inspired by good will to help that afflicted land to find, despite grave obstacles the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited”.
Francis began his “Urbi et Orbi” – to the city and the world – address by appealing to to Christians around the world to “recognise Christ in the faces of little children” in places of conflict and tension “as the winds of war are blowing in our world and an outdated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline”.
His traditional Christmas Day messagelisted many of the globe’s most troubled places.
He said: “We see Jesus in the faces of Syrian children still marked by the war that, in these years, has caused such bloodshed in that country. May beloved Syria at last recover respect for the dignity of every person through a shared commitment to rebuild the fabric of society, without regard for ethnic and religious membership.”
He spoke of the children of Iraq, that has experienced conflict for the past 15 years, and Yemen, “where there is an ongoing conflict that has been largely forgotten, with serious humanitarian implications for its people, who suffer from hunger and the spread of diseases”.
He also mentioned the suffering of children in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Nigeria.
Moving to other regions of the world, he prayed for tensions on the Korean peninsula to be overcome “and that mutual trust may increase in the interest of the world as a whole”. He called for “serene dialogue” in Venezuela and an end to conflict in Ukraine.
The pope also spoke of children he met on his recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, saying: “It is my hope that the international community will not cease to work to ensure that the dignity of the minority groups present in the region is adequately protected.”
Francis also referred to social and economic injustice, themes that he has focused on since becoming pope almost five years ago. He spoke of “the children of unemployed parents who struggle to offer their children a secure and peaceful future. And in those whose childhood has been robbed and who, from a very young age, have been forced to work or to be enrolled as soldiers by unscrupulous mercenaries.”
He prayed for refugees, another familiar cause espoused by the pope, referring the “many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers. Through their eyes we see the drama of all those forced to emigrate and risk their lives to face exhausting journeys that end at times in tragedy.”
In the UK, Alan Smith, the bishop of St Albans, also made oblique reference to Trump’s policies in his Christmas sermon. He spoke of the wall dividing the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, saying: “When we feel insecure, building walls seems a good idea.”
But, he said, walls sometimes provide temporary protection, but would never provide peace and security in the long term. Rather than build walls, we need to “build highways” to allow individuals and communities to come together, he told the congregation at St Albans Cathedral.