Pope calls for end to violence in Syria
Vatican, December 25, 2011
Pope Benedict called for an end to violence in Syria and a resumption of Middle East peace talks on Sunday on a Christmas Day marred by a bomb blast at a Catholic Church in Nigeria.
The leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics delivered his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message and blessing to tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square on a crisp but clear day as millions of others watched on television around the world.
At the end of his address, the 84-year-old pope, celebrating the seventh Christmas season of his pontificate, delivered Christmas greetings in 65 languages, including Turkish, Hebrew, Arabic, Swahili, Hindi, Urdu and Chinese.
"May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood," he said, speaking in Italian from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica.
"May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where he chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed," he said in a firm, steady voice.
At least 5,000 people have been killed in nine months of violence that has rocked the Arab nation in clashes between government forces and protesters calling for the ouster of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Declaring "let us speak out for those who have no voice," Benedict also called for more help for those suffering from hunger, food shortages and displacement in the Horn of Africa, and for those affected by floods in Thailand and the Philippines.
The pope did not mention a blast at a Catholic church on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital Abuja in his address, which was prepared before news of explosion arrived in Rome.
But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi condemned the blast as blind, absurd "terrorist violence" that enflames hate.
"We are close to the suffering of the Nigerian Church and the entire Nigerian people so tried by terrorist violence, even in these days that should be of joy and peace," Lombardi told Reuters.
According to early reports, at least 19 people were killed. In his address he also called for full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While his Christmas Day message took a partly political slant, mentioning some of the world's flash points, Benedict's Christmas Eve homily some 14 hours before lamented how the true meaning of the day had been overshadowed by materialism. - Reuters