Pope Francis prayed for peace in the Holy Land during his annual Christmas message, urging a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” the pope said before crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for his yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the City and the World”) address on noon Monday.
“On this festive day, let us ask the Lord for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land,” the pontiff continued. “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 recognized borders.”
“May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by good will to help that afflicted land to find, despite grave obstacles the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited,” he said.
This month, when U.S. President Donald Trump announced the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Pope Francis voiced his consternation over the decision.
In a special appeal, the pope called for respect for the “status quo” in Jerusalem while saying he was disturbed by recent news.
“My thoughts now turn to Jerusalem,” the pope said before a large crowd assembled in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. “I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has been created in the last days.”
“At the same time, I would like to make a heartfelt appeal for everyone’s commitment to respect the city’s status quo, in conformity with the pertinent United Nations Resolutions,” he said.
Francis echoed concerns voiced by Arab, Muslim, and European Union leaders who declared their opposition to the U.S. move, suggesting it could create turmoil in the area.
“Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, who venerate the Holy Sites of their respective religions there, and it has a special vocation to peace,” the pope continued in his address Wednesday.
“I pray to the Lord that this identity may be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Middle East and of the entire world,” Francis continued, “and that wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in an already convulsed worldwide panorama marked by so many cruel conflicts.”
In his Christmas message Monday, the pope also spoke of the many places where people can see the child Jesus reflected in the world today.
“Today, as the winds of war are blowing in our world and an outdated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline,” he said, “Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the Child and to recognize him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, ‘there is no place in the inn.’”
The pontiff said that people can see Jesus “in the faces of Syrian children” marked by the war, “in the children of Iraq,” wounded and torn by conflicts, and “in the children of Yemen,” where there is an ongoing conflict.
“We see Jesus,” Francis continued, “in the children of Africa, especially those who are suffering in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Nigeria.”
“We see Jesus in the children worldwide wherever peace and security are threatened by the danger of tensions and new conflicts,” he said, adding specific references to the Korean peninsula, Venezuela, and Ukraine.
Repeating a message he had offered on Christmas Eve, the Francis spoke of migrant children as well, likening them to the Holy Family of Nazareth.
“We see Jesus in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers,” he said. “Through their eyes we see the drama of all those forced to emigrate and risk their lives to face exhausting journeys that end at times in tragedy.”
“Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one’s head,” he said. “May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem.”
The pope ended his address with a blessing for all those present and those following the event on television or radio.
“May the birth of Christ the Saviour renew hearts, awaken the desire to build a future of greater fraternity and solidarity, and bring joy and hope to everyone. Happy Christmas!” he said.
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