Pope offers hope against darkness in Christmas Day message

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis offered a Christmas message of hope Wednesday against darkness that cloaks conflicts and relationships in large parts of the world from the Middle East to the Americas to Africa.

The pope told tens of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and Romans gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the annual Christmas Day message that “the light of Christ is greater'' than the darkness “in human hearts" and ‘’in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts.''

The traditional “Urbi et Orbi’’ (“to the city and to the world’’) Christmas message has become an occasion for popes to address suffering in the world and press for solutions. Francis was flanked by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the papal council for migrants, and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope's official almsgiver.

The pope cited the Syrian people “who still see no end to the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade’’ as well as Israel, where Jesus “was born as the savior of mankind and where so many people -- struggling but not discouraged -- still await a time of peace, security and prosperity.’’

Francis also called for an easing of the crisis in Lebanon, social tensions in Iraq and “a grave humanitarian crisis’’ in Yemen.

Related: Pope Francis canonizes new saints in ceremony 

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Pope Francis canonizes new saints in ceremony
Pope Francis leaves at the end of a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has praised two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonized the modernizing Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Francis declared the two men saints at a Mass in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and some 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of St. Peter's Square during a canonization ceremony, at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has praised two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonized the modernizing Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Francis declared the two men saints at a Mass in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and some 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of St. Peter's Square during a canonization ceremony presided over by Pope Francis, at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has lauded new saints Pope Paul VI and slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as prophets of a church that looks out for the poor as he presided over a canonization ceremony. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of St. Peter's Square during a canonization ceremony presided over by Pope Francis, at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has lauded new saints Pope Paul VI and slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as prophets of a church that looks out for the poor as he presided over a canonization ceremony. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A woman applauds the announcement by Pope Francis that El Salvador's martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero is a Saint, outside the cathedral where Romero's remains are entombed and where people gathered to watch tv live images from the Vatican in San Salvador, El Salvador, early Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. For many in San Salvador, it was the culmination of a fraught and politicized campaign to have the church formally honor a man who publicly denounced the repression by El Salvador's military dictatorship at the start of the country's 1980-1992 civil war. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)
Faithful follow a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A tapestry portraying Maria Katharina Kasper hangs from a balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonized two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Nuns wave flags during a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis leaves at the end of a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has praised two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonized the modernizing Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Francis declared the two men saints at a Mass in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and some 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis leaves at the end of a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has praised two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonized the modernizing Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Francis declared the two men saints at a Mass in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and some 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Chile President Sebastian Pinera, foreground center, attends a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has lauded new saints Pope Paul VI and slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as prophets of a church that looks out for the poor as he presided over a canonization ceremony. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis leaves at the end of a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has praised two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonized the modernizing Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Francis declared the two men saints at a Mass in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and some 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of St. Peter's Square during a canonization ceremony, at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has praised two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonized the modernizing Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Francis declared the two men saints at a Mass in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and some 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of St. Peter's Square during a canonization ceremony, at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has praised two of the towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church as prophets who shunned wealth and looked out for the poor as he canonized the modernizing Pope Paul VI and martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Francis declared the two men saints at a Mass in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims, a handful of presidents and some 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Tapestries portraying new proclaimed saints hang from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica during a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has lauded new saints Pope Paul VI and slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as prophets of a church that looks out for the poor as he presided over a canonization ceremony. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis presides over a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis has lauded new saints Pope Paul VI and slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as prophets of a church that looks out for the poor as he presided over a canonization ceremony. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Emeritus Queen Sofia of Spain attends a ceremony for the canonization of two towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church: Pope Paul VI, who oversaw church reforms of the 1960s, and Archbishop Oscar Romero, a human rights icon who was murdered for his defense of El Salvador's poor, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis celebrates Sunday's saint-making Mass wearing the blood-stained rope belt that Romero wore when he was gunned down in 1980. He will also be using Paul VI's staff, chalice and vestment. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Cheren attends a ceremony for the canonization of two towering figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church: Pope Paul VI, who oversaw church reforms of the 1960s, and Archbishop Oscar Romero, a human rights icon who was murdered for his defense of El Salvador's poor, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis celebrates Sunday's saint-making Mass wearing the blood-stained rope belt that Romero wore when he was gunned down in 1980. He will also be using Paul VI's staff, chalice and vestment. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A priest holds a picture of martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero prior to a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A man holds flag with a picture of martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero prior to a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis, center, incenses the relics during a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A man wears an El Salvador scarf prior to a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis presides over a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis presides over a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis incenses the relics during a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Pope Francis canonizes two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Figures of archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero are displayed for sale at a Catholic shop, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. Pope Francis will canonize two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)
A pedestrian looks at a banner with the image of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. Pope Francis will canonize two of the most important and contested figures of the 20th-century Catholic Church, declaring Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as models of saintliness for the faithful today.(AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)
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He noted that a number of countries in the Americas “are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval,’’ citing “the beloved Venezuelan people, long tried by their political and social tensions."

The pope also noted migrants forced by injustice “to emigrate in the hope of a secure life.’’ Instead of finding acceptance, Francis said injustice continues along their journey, where they often face abuse, enslavement and torture in “inhumane detention camps'' and death during dangerous sea and desert crossings.

And once migrants arrive in “places where they might have hoped for a dignified life’’ ... they “instead find themselves before walls of indifference,'' he said.

The pope offered prayers of hope for the people of Africa, including those in Congo “torn by continuing conflicts’’ and the people of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, where people have been “persecuted for their religious faith.’’

And in an extraordinary message, Francis along with two other religious leaders urged the rival leaders of South Sudan to maintain a pledge to form a coalition government early next year. A peace deal to end a 5-year civil war that killed close to 400,000 people was signed last year, but a November deadline to form a coalition government was extended to February as key aspects of the peace deal still need to be resolved.

The message, issued separately from the traditional papal Christmas address, was signed by the leader of the Anglican church, Archbishop Justin Welby, and the Rev. John Chalmers, ex-moderator of the Church of Scotland.

The religious leaders offered assurances “of our spiritual closeness as you strive for a swift implementation'' of peace agreements and prayers “for a renewed commitment to the path of reconciliation and fraternity.''

The leaders also expressed a desire to visit the East African nation.

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