VATICAN CITY (AP) - Decrying the suffering in Syria, Pope Francis on Sunday wished Christmas peace and hope for all those scarred by war and terrorism, which he said is sowing "fear and death in the heart of many countries and cities."
Some 40,000 tourists and Romans calmly endured long security lines to enter St. Peter's Square to see the pope on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, where he delivered the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and to the world") Christmas message and blessing.
Francis spoke sorrowfully of the suffering caused by the Syrian war, especially in Aleppo, pressing the international community to help negotiate a solution. He urged Israelis and Palestinians to "write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way" toward building a future of understanding and harmony.
He also cited the "brutality of terrorism" in Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
In Nigeria, the pope lamented, "fundamentalist terrorism exploits even children," a reference to child suicide bombers. He expressed hope that dialogue would prevail over `'the mindset of conflict" in both South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The heavy security at the Vatican reflected apprehension in much of Europe, which is reeling from extremist attacks. Last week, 12 people died in Berlin when a Tunisian man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group plowed a truck through a crowd at a Christmas market. He was killed a few days later in a shootout near Milan.
"Peace to all those who have been injured or have suffered the loss of a loved one due to the brutal acts of terrorism that have sown fear and death in the heart of many countries and cities," the pope said.
Referring to the meaning of Jesus' birth, Francis said: "Today this message goes out to the ends of the Earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace."
His Christmas message also recalled Colombia, which has seen his personal intervention try to end Latin America's longest running conflict, and Venezuela, where a papal envoy has tried to facilitate talks between the government and the opposition as Venezuelans endure widespread food and medicine shortages.
Francis expressed concern over tensions on the Korean peninsula, and over Myanmar, which he said should "consolidate efforts to promote peaceful coexistence."
During Christmas Eve Mass in the basilica, Francis said Jesus' birth, in a humble stable, calls to mind how some children today must hide in underground bomb shelters, live on the street, lie on the bottom of overcrowded smugglers' boats, are given weapons instead of toys or aren't allowed to be born at all.
Throughout his papacy, Francis has denounced the Islamic extremist violence that has driven Christians from Mideast communities that date to Christianity's foundations. He has also demanded that Europe in particular do more to welcome refugees.
Reflecting the pope's concern for migrants, refugees and others on society's margins, Bologna's archbishop celebrated a Christmas Eve Mass for the homeless in a waiting room of that Italian city's main train station.
Text of Pope Francis' Christmas day message
The following is the Vatican's official translation of Pope's Francis' traditional `'Urbi et Orbi" Christmas day message, delivered in Italian from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica Sunday:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!
Today the Church once more experiences the wonder of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem, as they contemplate the newborn child laid in a manger: Jesus, the Savior. On this day full of light, the prophetic proclamation resounds: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulder; and his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Is 9:6)
The power of this Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love. It is the power that created the heavens and the earth, and gives life to all creation: to minerals, plants and animals.
It is the force that attracts man and woman, and makes them one flesh, one single existence. It is the power that gives new birth, forgives sin, reconciles enemies, and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God.
This power of love led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man; it led him to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead. It is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.
For this reason, the birth of Jesus was accompanied by the angels' song as they proclaimed: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Lk 2:14).
Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace.
Peace to men and women in the war-torn land of Syria, where far too much blood has been spilled. Particularly in Aleppo, the site of horrendous fighting in recent weeks, it is most urgent that, in respect for humanitarian law, assistance and support be guaranteed to the sorely tried civilian population, who continue to live in desperate straits and immense suffering and need. It is time for weapons to be still forever, and the international community to seek actively a negotiated solution, so that civil coexistence can be restored in the country.
Peace to the women and men of the beloved Holy Land, the land chosen and favored by God. May Israelis and Palestinians have the courage and determination to write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build together a future of mutual understanding and harmony.
May Iraq, Libya and Yemen - whose peoples suffer war and the brutality of terrorism - be able once again to find unity and concord.
Peace to the men and women in various parts of Africa, especially in Nigeria, where fundamentalist terrorism exploits even children in order to perpetrate horror and death. Peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so that divisions may be healed and all people of good will may strive to undertake the path of development and sharing, preferring the culture of dialogue to the mindset of conflict.
Peace to women and men who to this day suffer the consequences of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, where there is urgent need for a common desire to bring relief to the civil population and to put into practice the commitments which have been assumed.
We implore harmony for the dear people of Colombia, which seeks to embark on a new and courageous path of dialogue and reconciliation. May such courage also motivate the beloved country of Venezuela to undertake the necessary steps to put an end to current tensions, and build together a future of hope for the whole population.
Peace to all who, in different areas, are enduring sufferings due to constant dangers and persistent injustice.
May Myanmar consolidate its efforts to promote peaceful coexistence and, with the assistance of the international community, provide necessary protection and humanitarian assistance to all those so gravely and urgently in need of it. May the Korean peninsula see the tensions it is experiencing overcome in a renewed spirit of collaboration.
Peace to all who have been injured or have suffered the loss of a loved one due to the brutal acts of terrorism that have sown fear and death in the heart of many countries and cities.
Peace - not merely the word, but real and concrete peace - to our abandoned and excluded brothers and sisters, to those who suffer hunger and to all the victims of violence.
Peace to exiles, migrants and refugees, to all those who in our day are subject to human trafficking.
Peace to the peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of a few, because of sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery.
Peace to those affected by social and economic unrest, and to those who endure the consequences of earthquakes or other natural catastrophes.
And peace to the children, on this special day on which God became a child, above all those deprived of the joys of childhood because of hunger, wars or the selfishness of adults.
Peace on earth to men and women of goodwill, who work quietly and patiently each day, in their families and in society, to build a more humane and just world, sustained by the conviction that only with peace is there the possibility of a more prosperous future for all.
Dear brothers and sisters, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;" he is the "prince of peace." Let us welcome him!