Pope's Christmas message calls for peace in Jerusalem

Pope Francis conducts the traditional Christmas Eve midnight mass at St Peter's Basilica.
Pope Francis greeting worshippers from the balcony of St Peter's Basilica as he gave his traditional address on Christmas Day. His message was delivered hours after a Christmas Eve mass where he urged Catholics not to ignore the conditions migrants f
Pope Francis greeting worshippers from the balcony of St Peter's Basilica as he gave his traditional address on Christmas Day. His message was delivered hours after a Christmas Eve mass where he urged Catholics not to ignore the conditions migrants face.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He highlights plight of children caught up in conflict as tensions simmer in West Bank

VATICAN CITY • Pope Francis, in his traditional Christmas address, called for peace in Jerusalem and highlighted the plight of children scarred by conflict. He had earlier urged the world's Catholics not to ignore the conditions migrants face.

Tens of thousands of worshippers gathered at the Vatican to hear the pontiff's fifth Urbi et Orbi (To The City And The World) message. It was delivered hours after a Christmas Eve mass where he spoke of how migrants had been "driven from their land" because of leaders willing to shed "innocent blood".

On Monday, Pope Francis' message sought "peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land".

"We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians," he 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."

The pontiff's plea came as fresh tensions simmered in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Mr Trump's announcement on Dec 6 triggered demonstrations and clashes, including in Bethlehem in the West Bank, where Christians marked the birth of Jesus Christ at a midnight mass.

The pontiff also mentioned other global flashpoints, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan and Venezuela, after stressing that the "winds of war are blowing in our world".

"Let us pray that confrontation may be overcome on the Korean peninsula and that mutual trust may increase in the interest of the world as a whole," the 81-year-old said.

Earlier, celebrating midnight mass in the ancient town, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, used his homily to lambast the wars that "the Herods of today fight every day to become greater, to occupy more space".

Criticising Mr Trump's announcement, Archbishop Pizzaballa insisted "Jerusalem is a city of peace, there is not peace if someone is excluded. Jerusalem should include, not exclude", stressing the principle that the city is for both peoples and the three Abrahamic faiths.

Hundreds had gathered in the cold on Bethlehem's Manger Square to watch the annual scout parade towards the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where tradition says Mary gave birth to Jesus.

But the square was noticeably quieter following recent violence between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army.

Twelve Palestinians have been killed since Mr Trump's declaration, including a 19-year-old who died of his wounds on Sunday nine days after he was shot during a Gaza protest.

Israel seized East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in moves never recognised by the international community.

Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and interpreted Mr Trump's statement as rejecting their right to a capital in East Jerusalem, although the Americans deny this.

Christmas decorations have, meanwhile, become more visible in Christian areas of Syria's capital Damascus this year.

In the central Syrian city of Homs, Christians celebrated Christmas with great fanfare for the first time in years after the end of battles between regime and rebel forces - with processions, shows for children and even decorations among the ruins.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Pope's Christmas message calls for peace in Jerusalem'. Print Edition | Subscribe