VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis used his Christmas message Sunday to lament the "icy winds of war” buffeting humanity and to make an impassioned plea for an immediate end to the fighting in Ukraine, a 10-month-old conflict he decried as “senseless.”
At noon in Rome, Francis delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi'' (Latin for "'to the city and to the world”) speech from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
On a sunny day, with the midday temperature reaching about 15 degrees Celsius (nearly 60 F), warm for a Roman winter, some 70,000 tourists, pilgrims and residents of the city packed St. Peter’s Square to listen to the pontiff and to receive his blessing.
Francis also cited long-running conflicts in the Middle East, including in the Holy Land, “where in recent months violence and confrontations have increased, bringing death and injury in their wake.” In addition, he prayed for a lasting truce in Yemen and for reconciliation in Iran and Myanmar, and cited violence and conflicts in Africa's Sahel region.
He lamented that on Christmas, the “path of peace” is blocked by social forces that include “attachment to power and money, pride, hypocrisy, falsehood.”
“Indeed, we must acknowledge with sorrow that, even as the Prince of Peace is given to us, the icy winds of war continue to buffet humanity," Francis said.
“If we want it to be Christmas, the birth of Jesus and of peace, let us look to Bethlehem and contemplate the face of the child who is born for us,'' he said. ”And in that small and innocent face, let us see the faces of all those children who, everywhere in the world, long for peace."
Francis urged the faithful to remember the millions of Ukrainians who were without electricity or heating Sunday because of Russian attacks on energy infrastructure, as well as the millions more living as refugees abroad or displaced within their country since the Feb. 24 invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Let us also see the faces of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes due to the devastation caused by 10 months of war,” the pontiff said as he gestured toward those in the crowd waving small Ukrainian flags.
The pope prayed that the Lord will “enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war!”'
Hobbled by a knee problem, Francis leaned on a walking stick with a pronged support base to inch forward for a better view of the crowd below.
The first pontiff from Latin America, he prayed that Christmas would “inspire the political authorities and all people of good will in the Americas to attempt to calm the political and social tensions experienced by various countries."
Francis said he was particularly thinking of Haiti, the impoverished Caribbean nation where nearly 100,000 people in the capital have fled gang-related violence, according to a recent United Nations migration agency report.
“On this day, as we sit around a well-spread table, may we not avert our gaze from Bethlehem, a town whose name means ‘house of bread,’ but think of all those, especially the children, who go hungry while huge amounts of food daily go to waste and resources are being spent on weapons.”
"The war in Ukraine has further aggravated this situation, putting entire peoples at risk of famine, especially in Afghanistan and in the countries of the Horn of Africa,'' Francis said.
Early in the war, sea mines and a Russian naval blockade of Ukraine's ports choked off shipments from the Black Sea ports of Ukraine, one of the world's largest producers of grain and corn. An agreement brokered by Turkey and the U.N. has sought to address the problem.
Gregorio Borgia and Gianfranco Stara contributed from Vatican City.