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Pope Francis blasts the weapons industry, appeals for peace in Christmas message

Pope Francis calls for peace
Pope Francis calls for peace in his Christmas prayers 00:24

Pope Francis on Monday blasted the weapons industry and its "instruments of death" that fuel wars, as he made a Christmas Day appeal for peace in the world and in particular between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica to the throngs of people below, Francis said he grieved the "abominable attack" of Hamas against southern Israel on Oct. 7 and called for the release of hostages. And he begged for an end to Israel's military campaign in Gaza and the "appalling harvest of innocent civilians" as he called for humanitarian aid to reach those in need.

Pope Francis waves from the balcony of St. Peter's basilica on Christmas
Pope Francis stands at the balcony of St. Peter's basilica to deliver the Christmas blessing known as Urbi et Orbi, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on Dec. 25, 2023. TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images

Francis devoted his Christmas Day blessing to a call for peace in the world, noting that the biblical story of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem sent a message of peace. But he said that Bethlehem "is a place of sorrow and silence" this year.

"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," he said during the "Urbi and Orbi" ("To the City and the World") blessing. "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 an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid."

Francis' annual "Urbi et Orbi" speech typically offers a lament of all the misery facing the world, and this year's edition was no different. From Armenia and Azerbaijan to Syria and Yemen, Ukraine to South Sudan and Congo and the Korean peninsula, Francis appealed for humanitarian initiatives, dialogue and security to prevail over violence and death.

He called for governments and people of goodwill in the Americas in particular to address the "troubling phenomenon" of migration and its "unscrupulous traffickers" who take advantage of innocents just looking for a better life.

He took particular aim at the weapons industry, which he said was fueling the conflicts around the globe with scarcely anyone paying attention.

"It should be talked about and written about, so as to bring to light the interests and the profits that move the puppet strings of war," he said. "And how can we even speak of peace, when arms production, sales and trade are on the rise?"

Francis has frequently blasted the weapons industry as "merchants of death" and has said that wars today, in Ukraine, in particular, are being used to try out new weapons or use up old stockpiles.

Pope Francis Celebrates Christmas Night Mass 2023 At Vatican
Pope Francis presides over the Christmas night Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on Dec. 24, 2023 at the Vatican. Divisione Produzione Fotografica / Getty Images

He called for peace between Israel and Palestinians, and for the conflict to be resolved "through sincere and persevering dialogue between the parties, sustained by strong political will and the support of the international community." 

The devastating conflict in the Middle East was a theme of his comments on Christmas Eve, as well, when the pontiff said, "Tonight, our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war, by the clash of arms that even today prevents him from finding room in the world."

Pope Francis, who is 87 years old and has struggled with a number of health issues, including a recent bout with what the Vatican described as "lung inflammation," used a wheelchair during parts of his Christmas events at the Vatican.

Christmas Mass in Vatican
Pope Francis used a wheelchair during Christmas Mass held at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City on Dec. 24, 2023.  Baris Seckin/Anadolu via Getty Images
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