Pope Francis prayed for peace in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Ukraine in a Christmas Day message in which he told worshippers the pandemic had hindered the dialogue needed to end long-running conflicts.
The head of the Catholic Church expressed concern that the isolation brought about by Covid-19 had increased to a tendency to withdraw and avoid working with others.
“In this time of the pandemic, our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried,” he said.
“On the international level too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue.”
Touching on numerous thorny issues in global politics, Francis prayed for agreements on climate change, help for refugees, an end to conflict and access to Covid vaccines for all.
But the message of Christmas was a sign of hope for the world and could “stir up in the hearts of everyone a yearning for reconciliation”, he said.
The pontiff delivered the traditional Urbi et Orbi address in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City to worshippers, who were allowed to attend in person.
Pope Francis prayed for “all men and women of goodwill to seek the best ways possible to overcome the current health crisis and its effects”.
He called for “open hearts to ensure that necessary medical care, and vaccines in particular, are provided to those peoples who need them most”, and offered a prayer for refugees and those who help them.
Long-running conflicts risked becoming overlooked because “we have become so used to them,” he said.
He voiced solidarity with the Afghan people “who for more than 40 years have been sorely tested by conflicts that have driven many to leave the country”.
Pope Francis mentioned the people of Syria, Iraq and Yemen, including children, suffering from the effects of war, conflict and displacement.
He also offered a prayer to prevent new “outbreaks of a long-festering conflict in Ukraine”, where there are fears of a Russian invasion.
And he said the “carelessness with which we so often treat the world” should lead to agreements to tackle climate change. It comes after he told world leaders at last month’s Cop26 summit to take responsibility for the planet.
The Vatican secretary of state has introduced a vaccine mandate on Holy See staff that covers all employees except those who have recovered from Covid-19.
Italy is among the countries reporting record infection numbers as the Omicron variant deals a setback to the world’s hope of an end to the pandemic.
The Netherlands is spending Christmas under lockdown, and traditional Christmas markets were shut in Austria and much of Germany.
Britain and France have held back from restoring lockdown-style measures but have not ruled out taking tougher action after Christmas.