Vatican City; December 25, 2014. Pope Francis condemned this year's "brutal" religious persecution in the Middle East while urging peace in Nigeria, Ukraine and other world troublespots in his annual Christmas "urbi et orbi" message.
Calling also for an end to violence against "vast numbers of children", and noting last week's deadly attack in Pakistan, he said: "Truly there are so many tears this Christmas."
Delivering his second Christmas blessing, the popular Argentine pontiff, visibly moved and departing from his text, said vast numbers of children "are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking".
He asked Jesus to "give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan," referring to the 149 people, including 133 schoool-children, killed in Peshawar by the Taliban.
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".
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 Reublic of the Congo.
He noted the victims of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and in Guinea and thanked those were "courageously" assisting the sick.
He reserved his toughest words to defend the victims of Islamic State fighters who have killed or displaced Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and others in Syria and Iraq who do not share the group's ideologies.
"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," he said.
"May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world," he said.
The 78-year-old pope spoke from the same balcony of St. Peter's Basilica where he first appeared as pontiff on the night of his election on March 13, 2013.
"May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity," he said, speaking in Italian.
On Christmas eve, Francis made a surprise telephone call to comfort Christian refugees in a camp in Ankawa, Iraq. "You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either ..." he told them.
The pope has a busy year ahead of him, with trips planned to Asia, Africa, Latin American and the United States.
Another key project for 2015 is the reform of the Curia, the Vatican's central administration. In Christmas greetings on Monday to the Vatican's top administrators, Pope Francis delivered a stinging critique of Vatican bureaucracy. — Agence France-Presse and Reuters