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As COVID disrupts a 2nd Christmas, pope prays for healing and peace


Pope Francis waving after his Christmas speech from the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Saturday.

By Gaia Pianigiani and Elisabetta Povoledo


Pope Francis used his annual Christmas message Saturday to pray for the many whose lives have been upended by the pandemic and to urge the world’s leaders to engage in “patient dialogue” to end conflict and “encounter others and do things together” at a time when so many are forced to be apart.


In his address, Francis called on Jesus to “grant health to the infirm and inspire all men and women of goodwill to seek the best ways possible to overcome the current health crisis and its effects.” He reiterated pleas that COVID-19 vaccines be made available to all. And he asked Jesus to “comfort the victims of violence against women, which has increased in this time of pandemic,” a scourge that he recently denounced as “almost satanic.”


It was the second year that the pandemic had held sway in the pope’s Christmas message. But in a sharp contrast to last year, when he made the address from within the Apostolic Palace, surrounded by only a few because of coronavirus restrictions, this year Francis spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to thousands of faithful present in the adjacent square.


Such outdoor gatherings are prohibited in Italy, which was hit this past week by a steep surge in coronavirus cases. But Vatican City, which sets its own rules, allowed the crowd to gather Saturday for the pope’s Christmas address. Those present were required to wear masks and respect social distancing.


Noting that many “conflicts, crises and disagreements” have continued during the pandemic, Francis said there was a risk that “by now, we hardly even notice them.”


“We have become so used to them that immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence,” he said. “We risk not hearing the cry of pain and distress of so many of our brothers and sisters.”


He cited the decadelong conflict in Syria, tensions in Iraq, the “enormous tragedy” of Yemen, the “very troubling economic and social conditions” in Lebanon, the targeting of Christians in Myanmar and the plight of Afghans, “who for more than 40 years have been sorely tested by conflicts that have driven many to leave the country.”


He also turned to the Middle East, where tensions persist between Israelis and Palestinians “with ever more serious social and political consequences,” while Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, struggles with the “economic repercussions of the pandemic” because tourists no longer visit.


And in a nod westward, Francis said, “Grant that through dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of every human being, the values of solidarity, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence may prevail in the hearts of the peoples of the Americas.”


He called on Jesus to bring peace to the world, to “sustain all those who provide humanitarian aid to peoples forced to flee from their homelands,” to prevent “fresh outbreaks of a long-festering conflict” in Ukraine and to help Ethiopia “find once again the path of reconciliation and peace.”


As he has before, Francis also urged the world to not remain “indifferent before the tragic situation of migrants, displaced persons and refugees.”


Throughout the address, his message — known as the “Urbi et Orbi” (Latin for “To the City and the World”) — was one of solidarity and community.


“Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried,” the pope said. “There is a growing tendency to withdraw, to do it all by ourselves, to stop making an effort to encounter others and do things together.”


This applies not only to personal relationships, he said, but also on the world stage.


“On the international level, too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue,” Francis said. “Yet only those paths can lead to the resolution of conflicts and to lasting benefits for all.”

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