VATICAN CITY • Pope Francis, in his Christmas message, has urged the world to unite to end atrocities by Islamist militants that he said were causing immense suffering in many countries.
Security was tight at the Vatican as Pope Francis, marking the third Christmas since his election in 2013, read his traditional Christmas Day "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica.
Tens of thousands of people had to have their bags checked as they entered the Vatican area.
Then they had to go through airport-style screening if they wanted to enter St Peter's Square.
Counter-terrorist police with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area in unmarked vans with dark windows.
After calling for an end to the civil wars in Syria and Libya, the Pope said: "May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples."
He was clearly referring to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants who have carried out attacks in those countries and destroyed many cultural heritage sites.
"Only God's mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst," he said. "The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations."
Pope Francis also said the human dignity of far too many people around the world was trampled on, including that of refugees and migrants. "Even today, great numbers of men and women are deprived of their human dignity and, like the child Jesus, suffer cold, poverty, and rejection," he said.
"May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade."
The Pope's words were echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas Day address, in which the leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans said Christians in the Middle East faced extinction at the hands of ISIS.
Archbishop Justin Welby said ISIS was "igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression".