‘URBI ET ORBI’ MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS CHRISTMAS 2023
In the Scriptures, the Prince of Peace is opposed by the “Prince of this world” (Jn 12:31), who, by sowing the seeds of death, plots against the Lord, “the lover of life” (cf. Wis 11:26). We see this played out in Bethlehem, where the birth of the Saviour is followed by the slaughter of the innocents. How many innocents are being slaughtered in our world? In their mothers’ wombs, in odysseys undertaken in desperation and search of hope, and in the lives of all those little ones whose childhoods have been devastated by war. They are the little Jesuses of today, these little ones whose childhood has been devastated by war.
To say “yes” to the Prince of Peace, then, means saying “no” to war, to every war and to do so with courage, to the very mindset of war. War is an aimless voyage, a defeat without victors, an inexcusable folly. To say “no” to war means saying “no” to weaponry. The human heart is weak and impulsive; if we find instruments of death in our hands, sooner or later we will use them. And how can we even speak of peace, when arms production, sales and trade are on the rise?
Today, as at the time of Herod, the evil that opposes God’s light hatches its plots in the shadows of hypocrisy and concealment. How much violence and killing takes place amid deafening silence, unbeknownst to many! People, who desire not weapons but bread, who struggle to make ends meet and desire only peace, have no idea how much public funds are being spent on arms. Yet that is something they ought to know! It should be talked about and written about, to bring to light the interests and the profits that move the puppet strings of war.
Isaiah, who prophesied the Prince of Peace, looked forward to a day when “nation shall not lift sword against nation”, a day when men “will not learn war anymore”, but instead “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (2:4). With God’s help, let us make every effort to work for the coming of that day!
May it come in Israel and Palestine, where war is devastating the lives of those people. I embrace them all, particularly the Christian communities of Gaza, the parish of Gaza, and the entire Holy Land. My heart grieves for the victims of the abominable attack of 7 October, and I reiterate my urgent appeal for the liberation of those still being held hostage. I plead for an end to the military operations with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims and call for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by opening the provision of humanitarian aid. May there be an end to the fuelling of violence and hatred? May the Palestinian question come to be resolved through sincere and persevering dialogue between the parties, sustained by strong political will and the support of the international community. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for peace in Palestine and Israel.
My thoughts turn likewise to the people of war-torn Syria and those of long-suffering Yemen. I think too of the beloved Lebanese people, and I pray that political and social stability will soon be attained.
Contemplating the Baby Jesus, I implore peace for Ukraine. Let us renew our spiritual and human closeness to its embattled people, so that through the support of each of us, they may feel the concrete reality of God’s love.
May the day of definitive peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan draw near. May it be advanced by the pursuit of humanitarian initiatives, by the return of refugees to their homes in legality and security, and by reciprocal respect for religious traditions and the places of worship of each community.
Let us not forget the tensions and conflicts that trouble the region of the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and Sudan, as well as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
May the day draw near when fraternal bonds will be consolidated on the Korean peninsula by undertaking processes of dialogue and reconciliation capable of creating the conditions for lasting peace.
May the Son of God, who became a lowly Child, inspire political authorities and all persons of goodwill in the Americas to devise suitable ways to resolve social and political conflicts, combat forms of poverty that offend the dignity of persons, reduce inequality and address the troubling phenomenon of migration movements.
From the manger, the Child Jesus asks us to be the voice of those who have no voice: the voice of the innocent children who have died for lack of bread and water; the voice of those who cannot find work or who have lost their jobs; the voice of those forced to flee their lands in search of a better future, risking their lives in gruelling journeys and prey to unscrupulous traffickers.
Brothers and sisters, we are approaching the season of grace and hope that is the Jubilee, due to begin a year from now. May this time of preparation for the Holy Year be an opportunity for the conversion of hearts, for the rejection of war and the embrace of peace, and for joyfully responding to the Lord’s call, in the words of Isaiah’s prophecy, “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (61:1).