Pope Francis has held his traditional mass on January 1, delivering a message of world peace. It was the first service the pontiff held in the new year, which also is a Holy Year of Mercy for faithful Catholics.
Pope Francis appealed to Catholics worldwide in his New Year's message to take a solid stance against war and terrorism, both of which he said had marred 2015. In his sermon, the pontiff said that overcoming "the indifference that thwarts solidarity" was essential to finding peace, urging his followers to combat the "torrent" of injustice and violence in the world.
Francis also called for an end to the "arrogance of the powerful" that would see the weak in society relegated "to the most squalid outskirts of our world." He also told the Catholics congregated at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome that this year they should begin to open their hearts to the problems of the world and "pay attention to our neighbor."
Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome in December to celebrate the start of the Catholic Holy Year.
"We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims. […] We are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights," the pope said.
Pope Francis also addressed the challenges many people had faced around the world in 2015 who were driven from their homes by conflict. But he also acknowledged that "many great gestures of generosity, love and solidarity" had been seen in 2015, underscoring that good in the world can overcome evil. The pontiff had earlier urged world leaders to introduce a more welcoming position toward migrants and refugees.
The service held on January 1 each year is celebrated by the Catholic Church as World Peace Day. Francis cited no particular country, continent or conflict in his mass, but has previously highlighted the humanitarian crisis unfolding in civil-war striken Syria.
Security measures at start of Holy Year
The event led by the head of the Catholic Church took place under tight security measures. Police checked the bags of people several blocks away from St. Peter's Square. About 10,000 people had to go through additional screening to get into St. Peter's Basilica.
Francis had earlier declared the majority of 2016 a Holy Year of Mercy, which began in December 2015 and is due to run through November 2016. Such Holy Years of Mercy usually take place only every 20 to 25 years or on special occasions. Faithful Catholics from around the world seek forgiveness and absolution on these occasions.
The Pope has repeatedly used the theme of mercy in the months leading up to the event to stress the theme of his papacy.
ss/jil (AP, Reuters, dpa)