Pope Francis doesn’t want a commonly quoted Bible verse chanted as empty words on Christmas Day — the one about peace on Earth.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors,” heavenly hosts proclaimed when Christ was born, according to the Vatican translation.
The pontiff told tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the Vatican on Wednesday where he wants that peace to happen — in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Holy Land.
False pretenses won’t do.
“True peace is not a balance of opposing forces. It is not a lovely ‘facade’ which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment,” Francis said in his Christmas Urbi et Orbi message.
The Urbi et Orbi address is customarily political and global, as its name indicates. It is Latin and means “to the city (of Rome) and to the world.” Popes give the address and blessing on special occasions such as Easter and Christmas.
Vatican TV estimated that about 150,000 attended the blessing in St. Peter’s Square, which marked Francis’ first Christmas celebration as pope.
He asked Jesus to inspire peace in warring factions around the world.
“Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue.”
He also continued his criticism of money-driven evils.
“Lord of heaven and earth,” he prayed, “look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity.”
Pray for peace
Francis asked Christians to pray for an end to the violence and suffering in Syria and for humanitarian aid to get through to its people. He prayed for people dying of hunger, thirst and violence in the Central African Republic to find an end to war and poverty.
He also addressed a new armed conflict.
“Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state,” he prayed.
He asked God to have mercy on civilians killed in Nigeria and Iraq and prayed that Israelis and Palestinians find peace together in “the land where you chose to come into the world.”
Francis remembered refugees fleeing conflicts and misery in Africa who died off the coast of Italy when their overfilled boats capsized before reaching the town of Lampedusa .
He prayed for those who lost entire families and homes to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
The massive turnout on Christmas Day mirrored the popularity Francis has enjoyed since becoming head of the Catholic Church. His reputation for being down to earth and genuinely caring about people has touched a chord with millions.
Christmas Eve was no different.
There was a record number of requests to attend this year’s Christmas Eve Mass, the Vatican said.
“People are listening to him, because he’s speaking in a language that’s not Vaticanese,” said Gerard O’Connell, a Vatican analyst. “He’s speaking the language of ordinary people.”
The Pope preached Tuesday evening on love, forgiveness and facing life with bravery and with God’s help.
“To us the Lord repeats, ‘Do not be afraid.’ … And I, too, repeat, do not be afraid,'” Francis said.
He called on the throngs gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday to cast aside hatred.
“If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light. But if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us, and around us.”
Nine months into his papacy, much has been made of the Pope’s reforms, among them more scrutiny at the Vatican bank, changes to the church’s bureaucratic structure, and a commission to deal with the abuse of minors.
And while this year’s Christmas liturgy remains the same, experts say we should expect the unexpected.
“He tends to be a surprise, because he does things that are normal, but are very abnormal in terms of the papacy,” O’Connell said. “He brought three homeless men into where he is living to have breakfast with him on his birthday. … I suspect we will see something else again over the Christmas period.”
The festivities began on Saturday, with the Pope’s Christmas message to the Curia. He urged the church’s governing body to avoid gossip and to focus on service.
And then he practiced what he preached, spending three hours at a local hospital bringing Christmas cheer to sick children.
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