Vatican City — Pope Francis appealed for peace in many of the world's hotspots Wednesday, singling out the crises in the Middle East, Venezuela and Lebanon as well as armed conflicts ravaging many African countries, and prayed for migrants.
"May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world," the 83-year-old pontiff told tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square for the annual Christmas Day message.
He also prayed for migrants undertaking perilous and potentially deadly sea crossings to Europe to seek a better life, saying, "It is injustice that makes them cross deserts and seas that become cemeteries."
"It is injustice that forces them to ensure unspeakable forms of abuse, enslavement of every kind and torture in inhumane detention camps. It is injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference."
The traditional "Urbi et Orbi'' ("to the city and to the world'') Christmas message has evolved into an occasion for popes to speak of world suffering and urge solutions.
Francis appealed for comfort for "the beloved Syrian people who still see no end to the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade," he said, urging the international community to find solutions to allow the peoples of that region to live together in peace and security.
He used this one to call for a resolution to the crisis in Lebanon, where he hoped for a return to "harmonious coexistence".
In the Middle East, notably Iraq and Yemen, the pope lamented that "so many people - struggling but not discouraged - still await a time of peace, security and prosperity."
The Argentinian pope, noting that in South America "a number of nations are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval," urged that "the beloved Venezuelan people ... receive the aid they need."
He said the continent's crises and "many forms of poverty ... offend the dignity of each person."
The pontiff also noted that "beloved Ukraine ... yearns for concrete solutions for an enduring peace."
Finally, Francis denounced attacks on Christians in Africa and prayed for victims of conflict, natural disasters and disease in the world's poorest continent.
The pontiff urged "comfort to those who are persecuted for their religious faith, especially missionaries and members of the faithful who have been kidnapped, and to the victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria."
Francis also focused on the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been plagued by insecurity for a quarter of a century due to the presence of dozens of local and foreign armed groups.
"May (Jesus Christ) bring peace to those living in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, torn by continuing conflicts," the pontiff said.
And Francis and two other religious leaders issued a rare second message, urging the rival leaders of South Sudan to come through with their pledge to form a coalition government early next year.