In his annual Christmas "urbi et orbi" message, Pope Francis has condemned this year's "brutal" religious persecution in the Middle East. He also urged for peace in Nigeria, Ukraine and other troubled regions.
Speaking at midday local time (1100 UTC) from the central balcony of the Vatican Basilica on Thursday, the 78-year-old pontiff addressed the Catholic congregation around the world as well as the tens of thousands who had gathered in St. Peter's Square.
"Christmas should bring a message of salvation to a world marred by conflict and suffering," Pope Francis said Thursday as he called for an end to violence against "vast numbers of children."
Reflecting on last week's deadly attack on a Pakistani school in Peshawar, the Pope said: "Truly there are so many tears this Christmas."
"May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery [and] take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference," he added.
In his message the Pope also deplored child abuse and the practice of abortion. He called for an end to conflicts in African countries, and appealed for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
His toughest words, however, were reserved to defend victims of "Islamic State" (IS) fighters who have been killed or displaced for failing to share the group's ideology.
"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," Pope Francis 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 added.
Prior to delivering his Christmas Day message, the pontiff also posted on Twitter:
On Christmas Eve, the pope celebrated a 90-minute mass in St Peter's Basilica.. In his homily, he said "tenderness" was needed to heal the world.
ksb/es (Reuters, AFP, dpa)