Pope Francis went off script in his first Christmas message as Pope Wednesday and asked both Christians and non-believers to work for peace. He also spoke out strongly against human trafficking and use of children in war.
"Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue."
He asked Jesus to inspire warring factions around the world to seek peace. He prayed that the Syrian people be spared from “further suffering,” and asked for prayer “to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid.”
"Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state," he prayed.
He asked God to have mercy on civilians killed in Nigeria and Iraq. Remembering a perennial trouble spot, he called for a “favorable outcome” to peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians—in “the land where you chose to come into the world,” speaking to Jesus.
The Pope prayed for people dying of hunger, thirst and violence in the Central African Republic. He remembered refugees fleeing conflicts and misery in Africa who died off the coast of Italy when their overfilled boats capsized before reaching shore. He prayed for those who lost entire families and homes to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
“Child of Bethlehem, touch the hearts of all those engaged in human trafficking, that they may realize the gravity of this crime against humanity. Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers,” Francis prayed.
Pope Francis continued his criticism of the money-driven evils that are forcing so many into poverty while the top 1% has more wealth than at any time in recent history, and the inequity of wealth is now as great as it was just before the Great Depression.
"Lord of heaven and earth," he prayed, "look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity."
A crowd of 150,000 jammed into St. Peter’s Square on Christmas to hear the Pope’s Christmas prayer. Crowds at the Vatican have increased over 400% on average since Francis began speaking out on behalf of the poor and for social justice. The Pope has instructed Catholic priests and Bishops to use a different tone in speaking about issues that divide parishioners saying the Church has been “obsessed” with talking about divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Many American pastors have noted a large increase in attendance at masses since Francis became Pope. It is not what the Pope is saying that is moving people, it is what he does. Pope Francis not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. He not only speaks the way Jesus spoke, he, like Jesus, personally ministers to the poor, the homeless, the ill, and the disfigured. Francis leaves the Vatican at night dressed as a parish priest and ministers to the homeless personally in Rome’s slums.
It is one thing to preach; it quite another to practices what you preach. Too often many priests and ministers alike do not live the humble lifestyle Jesus called them to live. Many live the “life of Reilly.” The Pope may live in the Vatican, but he did not build it. He chose to live in a small, spartan apartment not the lavish papal suite.
Francis has been Pope less than a year but has changed the Catholic Church profoundly, and arguably, all of Christianity. His message resonates with all people of good will—even non-Christians.
Whether a person is a Catholic, or hates Catholics, it is hard to hate this humble man—unless, perhaps you are Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh. Pope Francis was named Time’s “Person of the Year” because he is forcing most of us to focus on what is really important, and he is showing us exactly what we must do to act on it.