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On a Covid-scarred Christmas, Pope calls dialogue and encounter the way out

ROME – As the world continues to navigate the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic and its variants, Pope Francis on Christmas day touted dialogue and encounter as the way out, while also praying for world peace and an end to global conflicts.

He prayed for those infected with COVID-19 and for secondary victims, including women facing domestic violence, children who are bullied, families who are struggling, and elderly people who are isolated and alone.

Speaking from the main loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope in his traditional Christmas Urbi et Orbi address said that with Jesus’s coming into the world, “God showed us the way of encounter and dialogue.”

“Indeed, he made that way incarnate in himself, so that we might know it and follow it, in trust and hope,” he said, saying this especially relevant amid the pandemic.

As a result of COVID-19, “Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried; there is a growing tendency to withdraw, to do it all by ourselves, to stop making an effort to encounter others and do things together,” he said.

There is also a risk of avoiding dialogue on the international level, he said, saying the danger is that “this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue.”

Francis lamented that at Christmas, a season of peace, global conflicts are still raging and “never seem to end.”

“By now we hardly even notice them. We have become so used to them that immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence; we risk not hearing the cry of pain and distress of so many of our brothers and sisters,” he said.

Pope Francis then pointed to wars and conflicts happening throughout the world and prayed for peace, particularly in the Middle East.

He pointed to Syria, which has endured more than a decade of bloody civil war; Iraq, which is still recovering from years of violent conflict; Lebanon, which, he said, is undergoing an “unprecedented” social and economic crisis; Yemen, where he said a silent conflict has been “overlooked by everyone”; Israel and Palestine, which have yet to find a solution to decades of rivalry; and Bethlehem, which has been hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Yet despite the darkness these conflicts cast, there is hope in the fact that God chose to come into the world human form, and “he shared in our plight, and he broke down the wall of our indifference,” the pope said.

“In the cold of the night, he stretches out his tiny arms towards us: he is in need of everything, yet he comes to give us everything. Let us ask him for the strength to be open to dialogue,” he said, asking that on Christmas specifically, believers ask God “to stir up in the hearts of everyone a yearning for reconciliation and fraternity.”

He prayed that God would grant peace to the Middle East and the entire world, and asked God to sustain all those working to provide humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees, especially those from Afghanistan, “who for more than forty years have been sorely tested by conflicts that have driven many to leave the country.”

Francis prayed that political authorities would work to bring peace, rather than sow division, and that tensions and conflicts in other areas of the world would also come to an end.

The pope pointed to ongoing tensions in Myanmar as a result of last year’s military coup, where repercussions are still being felt and “intolerance and violence not infrequently target the Christian community and its places of worship, clouding the peaceful countenance of that people.”

He also pointed to the conflict still unfolding in Ukraine, asking God to prevent further escalations.

Leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have said Pope Francis is planning to visit Ukraine next year in a bid to support local Christians and shed light on the deadly conflict. There are also rumors Francis may meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow next year.

Francis also prayed for peace and reconciliation in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, and especially those living in the Sahel and in North Africa, where he said people are “tormented by divisions, unemployment and economic inequality.”

Turning to the Americas, he asked that dialogue would prevail among citizens and leaders, and that as a result, “mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of every human being, the values of solidarity, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence” would become characteristic on the continent.

In terms of the contagion, Francis asked that competent medical experts and authorities seek “the best ways possible” to end the current health crisis, and prayed that the necessary medical care, including vaccines, are made available “to those peoples who need them most.”

A frequent advocate on behalf of prisoners, Pope Francis also offered special prayers for both military and civilian prisoners of war and conflict, and for all those imprisoned for political reasons, asking that they “may soon return home.”

He offered special prayers to those who have been forced to leave their homes, asking that God would “not leave us indifferent before the tragic situation of migrants, displaced persons and refugees.”

“Their eyes beg us not to look the other way, ignoring our common humanity, but instead to make their stories our own and to be mindful of their plight,” he said, and also offered a plea on behalf of the environment, asking that political leaders reach “effective agreements, so that future generations can live in an environment respectful of life.”

Pope Francis closed insisting that amid the world’s many problems, “hope prevails, ‘for to us a child is born.’”

This child, he said, “is the word of God, who became an infant, capable only of crying, and in need of help for everything. He wished to learn how to speak, like every other child, so that we might learn to listen to God, our Father, to listen to one another and to dialogue as brothers and sisters.”

“O Christ, born for our sake, teach us to walk beside you on the paths of peace,” he said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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