In his first Christmas message as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis appealed for peace and a better world.
In the annual 'Urbi et Orbi' address Pope Francis said he hoped for successful Middle East negotiations and peace in the land of Jesus’ birth, peace for Syria and several war-torn African countries, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict.
The pontiff was speaking to an estimated 70,000 people from the central balcony in St Peter’s Basilica where he was unveiled as the new leader of the church on March 13.
Francis prayed that Jesus, the "prince of peace," would "bless the land where you chose to come into the world and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence."
Francis then explained his concept of peace.
"True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It's not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions," the pope said in his first Christmas message since being elected pontiff in March. "Peace calls for daily commitment," Francis said, reading the pages of his speech which were ruffled by a chilly wind.
With a reference to attacks on Christians in Africa and parts of the Middle East, Francis prayed that God "protect all who are persecuted in your name."
AP reports that in Middle East, pilgrims celebrated Christmas Day in the ancient Bethlehem church where tradition holds Jesus was born, as candles illuminated the sacred site and the joyous sound of prayer filled its overflowing halls.
This year's turnout was the largest in years in Bethlehem and the celebrations were marked by careful optimism amid ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Leaders expressed hope that the coming year would finally bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.
The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, led a prayer for some 1,000 worshippers as bells rang and tourists from around the world flocked to the fourth-century Church of the Nativity complex to see the grotto that is Jesus' traditional birthplace.
In his address, Francis asked God to "look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers."
He also called for a "dignified life" for migrants, praying tragedies such as one in which hundreds died in a shipwreck off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa are never repeated, and made a particular appeal against human trafficking, which he called a "crime against humanity."