POPE Benedict XVI while delivering the Vatican traditional Christmas Day message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday, called for an end to “savage acts of terrorism” in Nigeria and the slaughter of the “defenseless” in Syria.
The 85-year-old pontiff also called for the return of peace to Mali.
“This good earth exists, and today too, in 2012, from this earth truth has sprung up! Consequently, there is hope in the world, a hope in which we can trust, even at the most difficult times and in the most difficult situations.
“May the birth of Christ favour the return of peace in Mali and that of concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians.
“Yes, May peace spring up for the people of Syria deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenseless and reaps innocent victims.”
“Once again I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict” he said.
In Nigeria, AFP reports that the Islamist sect Boko Haram has killed hundreds in its campaign to impose Sharia Law in the North, targeting a number of churches.
The group has often targeted churches in its bloody insurgency, as well as police and other symbols of the establishment in the North.
In Mali, a mix of Islamists with links to al Qaeda have occupied the country’s north since April, destroying much of the region’s religious heritage. They have also carried out amputations to help impose strict Islamic law on a population that has practiced a more moderate form of Islam for centuries.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, prayed for “Israelis and Palestinians (to be granted the) courage to end long years of conflict and division, and to embark resolutely on the path of negotiation.”
The Pope also prayed for “help and comfort to the refugees from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo”, where a rebel campaign caused tens of thousands to flee their homes, and peace in Kenya, “where brutal attacks have struck the civilian population and places of worship”.
Benedict said, “May peace spring up in the land where the Redeemer was born, and May he grant Israelis and Palestinians courage to end long years of conflict and division and embark resolutely on the path of negotiation.”
Regarding China, where there have been tensions this year between the Catholic Church and Chinese authorities over the oversight of church leaders there, Benedict called for expanded freedom of religion.