ROME — As Christians around the world celebrated Christmas, Pope Francis called on Wednesday for a softening of “stony and self-centered hearts,” once again directing the world’s attention to the plight of migrants and people living in areas plagued by conflict, social and political upheaval, injustice, or natural disasters.

Addressing thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope spoke of the millions of people who have fled their homes for “places where they might have hope for a dignified life,” only to find themselves “before walls of indifference.”

Making his annual Christmas speech, Francis lamented the miseries of several trouble spots, urging the rest of the world to take responsibility for healing those places and to embrace the refugees who leave them.

Delivering his “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and to the World”) benediction from a balcony in the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope asked Jesus to “bless the efforts of those who spare no effort to promote justice and reconciliation and to overcome the various crises and the many forms of poverty that offend the dignity of each person.”

Speaking of “the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East” and a Holy Land that still awaits “a time of peace, security and prosperity,” he urged “governments and the international community to find solutions to allow the peoples of that region to live together in peace and security, and put an end to their sufferings.”

In the Americas, “where a number of nations are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval,” Francis called for comfort for “the beloved Venezuelan people, long tried by their political and social tensions.”


Francis also called for “concrete solutions for an enduring peace” in Ukraine, and cited all those in Africa “who are persecuted for their religious faith, especially missionaries and members of the faithful who have been kidnapped,” as well as “victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.”

Francis spoke after military marching bands had played the Vatican and the Italian national hymns. “Brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas,” he began, to cheers.

Warm applause greeted his address, and the pope then blessed the thousands in the square, and the thousands more who packed the broad avenue that leads to the basilica.