Pope calls for compassion and an end to persecution

Pontiff decries ISIL brutality against minorities in Christmas address, a day after phoning Christian refugees in Iraq.

Pope Francis waves as he delivers his ‘Urbi et Orbi’ message from a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on December 25, 2014. Osservatore Romano / Reuters
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VATICAN CITY // Pope Francis condemned the “brutal persecution” of minorities by ISIL insurgents in his Christmas message on Thursday and urged people not to be indifferent to the suffering of so many around the world.

Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter’s Square to hear the Argentine pope deliver his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing and message, marking the second Christmas since his election last year.

Pope Francis also appealed for an end to conflicts in African countries, urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, condemned the attack by Taliban militants that killed more than 130 students in Pakistan last week, and thanked those helping the victims of the Ebola epidemic.

But he reserved his toughest words to defend the victims of ISIL fighters who have killed or displaced Muslims, Christians and others in Syria and Iraq who do not share the group’s ideologies.

“Our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of continuing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution,” he said.

“May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world,” he said.

The 78-year-old pope spoke from the same balcony of St Peter’s Basilica where he first appeared as pontiff on the night of his election on March 13, 2013.

“May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity,” he said, speaking in Italian.

On Christmas eve, Francis made a surprise telephone call to comfort Christian refugees in a camp in Ankawa, Iraq.

In another annual speech,

Queen Elizabeth II used her traditional Christmas broadcast to call for international reconciliation and to praise medical workers fighting Ebola in Africa. The queen said she had been “deeply touched” by the “selflessness” of doctors and nurses combating the Ebola outbreak.

She also called for reconciliation throughout the world and in the United Kingdom.

She said healing differences in Scotland after a divisive referendum that came close to splitting the United Kingdom this year will take time.

The queen spoke on the 100-year anniversary of a spontaneous truce between warring soldiers in opposite trenches in World War One, something she described as a “remarkable” event that showed peace was possible.

“Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord,” the queen said.

“But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Anglican faith, was also meant to remember the 1914 truce in his Christmas sermon but was forced to cancel due to what a spokesman said was a “severe cold”.

In his first Christmas Eve speech, Spain’s new King Felipe VI insisted that seemingly endless examples of corruption across the country incensing voters must be stamped out.

He did not mention his recently indicted sister, Princess Cristina, by name but stressed that Spanish public figures don’t have a right “to profit or become rich.”

The speech watched by millions on TV is the most important national address by Spanish kings, and King Felipe gave his first after his father Juan Carlos abdicated in June — putting his own stamp on the monarchy.

Just two days before King Felipe spoke, Princess Cristina was indicted on two counts of tax fraud that could land her in prison.

* Reuters and Agence France-Presse