Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for an end to the “senseless” war in Ukraine, in his traditional Christmas Day message broadcast around the world.
The head of the Catholic Church addressed thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square, some of them holding Ukrainian flags, before delivering the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing (“to the city and the world”).
A call to peace is traditionally the focus of the pope’s message at Christmas, the holiday marking the birth of Christ, which he delivers from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica and is broadcast live worldwide.
The 86-year-old on Sunday first turned to “our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes”.
“May the Lord inspire us to offer concrete gestures of solidarity to assist all those who are suffering, and may he enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war!” he said.
“Tragically, we prefer to heed other counsels, dictated by worldly ways of thinking,” he added, recalling “with sorrow” that “the icy winds of war continue to buffet humanity”.
– ‘Food as a weapon’ –
“Our time is experiencing a grave famine of peace also in other regions and other theatres of this third world war,” he said.
Francis referenced numerous countries in difficulty this Christmas, whether due to conflict or another crisis, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Syria, Myanmar, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon and Haiti.
For the first time, he also called for “reconciliation” in Iran, rocked by women-led protests for the past three months.
The pope has called for peace in Ukraine ever since Russia invaded its neighbour in February, condemning the war but seeking to maintain a delicate dialogue with Moscow.
However, he has been criticised in some quarters for not being more explicit in blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a magazine interview published last month, the Argentine pontiff denounced the cruelty of Russia’s troops in Ukraine, drawing a formal protest from Moscow.
On Sunday, the pope also urged those celebrating Christmas to remember those “who go hungry while huge amounts of food daily go to waste and resources are being spent on weapons”.