Pope Francis' wish for Christmas is for a better world, for protection for Christians under attack, support for battered women and trafficked children, for peace in the Middle East and North Africa region, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict around the globe.
The pontiff delivered the traditional Urbi et Orbi (Latin for "to the city and to the world") homily from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica in Rome to some 70,000 people.
In his first Christmas message since being elected pope in March 2013, Francis asked those in attendance to share the song of Christmas angels, "for every man or woman … who hopes for a better world, who cares for others."
The Pope singled out Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Iraq for particular attention.
He made a point of calling for aid access to the civilian populations in Syria, as well as renewed efforts for peace.
In his general greeting, Francis declared: "To you, dear brothers and sisters, gathered from throughout the world in this Square, and to all those from different countries who join us through the communications media, I offer my cordial best wishes for a merry Christmas!
"On this day illumined by the Gospel hope which springs from the humble stable of Bethlehem, I invoke the Christmas gift of joy and peace upon all: upon children and the elderly, upon young people and families, the poor and the marginalised. May Jesus, who was born for us, console all those afflicted by illness and suffering; may he sustain those who devote themselves to serving our brothers and sisters who are most in need. Happy Christmas to all!"
Last Sunday a group of demonstrators protesting to the Italian authorities about the economy and the plight of the poor was also present in St Peter's Square while the Pope was speaking.
Francis noticed the large banner they were carrying, and commented, following the Angelus prayer: “I see there, written in large letters, 'The poor cannot wait'. That's good! And this makes me think that Jesus was born in a stable, not in a house. Afterwards he had to flee to Egypt to save his life. At the end, he returned to his own home, in Nazareth”.
“I also think, today, reading this banner, of the many families who are without a home, either because they have never had one, or because they have lost it, for various reasons. Family and home go hand in hand. It is very difficult to raise a family without a home. In this Christmas period I invite all – individuals, social organisations, authorities – to do everything possible to enable every family to have a home”.
“To those from Italy who are gathered today to demonstrate their social commitment, may you offer a constructive contribution, rejecting the temptations of conflict and violence, and may you always choose the path of dialogue in defending rights”.
“I wish you all a good Sunday and a Christmas of hope, justice and fraternity”, concluded the pontiff.
* Christmas on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/christmas