VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis issued a strident call in his Christmas day message to safeguard children who are victims "under our very eyes" of violence and trafficking, while also demanding an end to "brutal persecution" worldwide.
Killings and hostage-takings from the Middle East to Nigeria and elsewhere must stop, he said in his annual Christmas "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) message.
Denouncing conflicts in Ukraine and Libya, and noting last week's deadly attack against a school in Pakistan, the pontiff also lamented the thousands of victims of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
"Truly there are so many tears this Christmas," he said.
Delivering his second Christmas blessing, the popular Argentine pontiff, visibly moved and departing from his text, noted "the children massacred by bombardments, including where the son of God was born" and their "powerless silence that cries under the sword".
Denouncing "indifference", he explicitly condemned abortion, deploring the children "killed before seeing the light".
"May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers."
"May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week" referring to the 149 people, including 133 school-children, killed in Peshawar by the Taleban.
Speaking to a large crowd massed outside Saint Peter's Basilica, the pope urged Ukrainians to "overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation".
He turned too to the violence wrought by Islamic State fundamentalists this year in Syria and Iraq.
"I ask him, the saviour 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."
There were "too many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, adults and elderly, from this region and the whole world", he said.
He called for peace in "the whole Middle East" and continued efforts towards "dialogue" between Israelis and Palestinians.
The pope too urged peace in Nigeria "where more blood is being shed", as well as in Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He noted the victims of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and thanked those who were "courageously" assisting the sick.