Giving his traditional Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” blessing, Pope Francis urged leaders to be open to dialogue to resolve the world’s many “conflicts, crises, and disagreements.”
Speaking from the central balcony overlooking a rainy St Peter’s Square , the pope said that people had become so accustomed to disputes that “by now we hardly even notice them.”
Referring to the baby Jesus, he said: “In the cold of the night, he stretches out his tiny arms towards us: he is in need of everything, yet he comes to give us everything. Let us ask him for the strength to be open to dialogue.”
“On this festive day, let us implore him to stir up in the hearts of everyone a yearning for reconciliation and fraternity.”
Last Christmas, the coronavirus pandemic forced the pope to break with custom and deliver his blessing “To the City and the World” inside the Vatican’s Hall of Benediction. But this year, he returned to the Loggia of the Blessings, with its view of the windswept square embraced by the arms of Bernini’s colonnade.
In his Christmas homily, Pope Francis asked Christians to contemplate that God did not choose to come into the world in grandeur, but as a humble child born into poverty.
The pope began his “Urbi et Orbi” address with a reflection on the Christ Child.
“The Word became flesh in order to dialogue with us. God does not desire to carry on a monologue, but a dialogue. For God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is dialogue, an eternal and infinite communion of love and life,” he said.
“By the coming of Jesus, the Person of the Word made flesh, into our world, God showed us the way of encounter and dialogue. Indeed, he made that way incarnate in himself, so that we might know it and follow it, in trust and hope.”
Pope Francis noted that the pandemic had strained social relationships, isolating people from each other.
“On the international level too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue,” he commented.
“Yet only those paths can lead to the resolution of conflicts and to lasting benefits for all.”
He said that a growing resignation meant that “immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence.”
The “Urbi et Orbi” blessing — which refers to the pope’s dual roles as bishop of Rome and head of the global Catholic Church — is reserved for the most solemn occasions, such as Easter, Christmas, and the first public appearance of a new pope.
Pope Francis famously presided at an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing on March 27, 2020, as the coronavirus swept the world.
In this year’s Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” address, the pope highlighted specific conflicts around the world, beginning with Syria, which has witnessed more than 10 years of war, resulting in around half a million deaths.
He also mentioned Iraq, where he made a historic visit in March, noting that it “still struggles to recover from a lengthy conflict.”
He described the deadly crisis in Yemen, a country bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman, as “an enormous tragedy, overlooked by everyone.”
He said that tensions between Israelis and Palestinians “drag on without a resolution, with ever more serious social and political consequences.”
“Nor should we forget Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’ birth, which is experiencing hardship also from the economic repercussions of the pandemic, preventing pilgrims from visiting the Holy Land and adversely affecting the life of the people,” he said.
He also highlighted the “unprecedented crisis” in Lebanon, which he sought to bring to the world’s attention with a day of prayer in July.
But the pope stressed that the birth of Jesus offered hope.
Quoting the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, he said: “Today, ‘the Love that moves the sun and the other stars,’ as Dante says, became flesh. He came in human form, he shared in our plight and he broke down the wall of our indifference.”
The pope prayed: “Baby Jesus, grant peace and concord to the Middle East and the whole world. Sustain all those who provide humanitarian aid to peoples forced to flee from their homelands; comfort the Afghan people, who for more than 40 years have been sorely tested by conflicts that have driven many to leave the country.”
“King of all peoples, help political authorities bring peace to societies roiled by tension and conflict.”
He also asked the Christ Child to help the people of Burma, the Southeast Asian country officially known as Myanmar that suffered a military coup in February. The pope noted that Christians have been caught in the crackdown that followed.
“Sustain the people of Myanmar, where intolerance and violence not infrequently target the Christian community and its places of worship, clouding the peaceful countenance of that people,” said the pope, who visited Burma in 2017.
Pope Francis also prayed that the infant Jesus would “prevent fresh outbreaks of a long-festering conflict” in Ukraine and help Ethiopia “find once again the path of reconciliation and peace through a forthright encounter that places the needs of the people above all else.”
He called for divine intervention for the victims of terrorism in the Sahel region of Africa, people suffering from unemployment and poverty in North Africa, and conflict victims in Sudan and South Sudan.
“Grant that, through dialogue, mutual respect, and recognition of the rights and cultural values of every human being, the values of solidarity, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence may prevail in the hearts of the peoples of the Americas,” he prayed.
The pope then commended various groups of people to God, including victims of domestic violence, which has soared during the pandemic, young people suffering from bullying and abuse, lonely elderly people, and divided families.
He also prayed that people in need would receive medical care, especially vaccines, and prisoners of war and conscience be allowed to return home.
Finally, he prayed for migrants and refugees, whose plight he highlighted during a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos on Dec. 5.
“Do not leave us indifferent before the tragic situation of migrants, displaced persons, and refugees,” he said. “Their eyes beg us not to look the other way, ignoring our common humanity, but instead to make their stories our own and to be mindful of their plight.”
After delivering his message, the pope recited the Angelus. Putting on a dark red embroidered stole, he then gave his blessing, which carried with it the possibility of a plenary indulgence, not only for pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square but also for those who “piously follow” the ceremony remotely.
Plenary indulgences remit all temporal punishment due to sin. They must be accompanied by full detachment from sin, as well as sacramental confession, the reception of Holy Communion, and prayer for the pope’s intentions once it is possible to do so.
Concluding his address, the pope said: “Dear brothers and sisters, amid all the many problems of our time, hope prevails, ‘for to us a child is born’ (Isaiah 9:6).”
“He is the word of God, who became an infant, capable only of crying, and in need of help for everything. He wished to learn how to speak, like every other child, so that we might learn to listen to God, our Father, to listen to one another and to dialogue as brothers and sisters.”
“O Christ, born for our sake, teach us to walk beside you on the paths of peace. Happy Christmas to all!”
(Photo courtesy of Vatican Media via Catholic News Agency)
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