VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI called for an “end to the bloodshed” in Syria and denounced the “savage” violence in Africa on Tuesday, even as Nigeria witnessed a Christmas attack on Christians.
Speaking in his traditional Christmas message, the pope touched on several other of the world’s conflict zones.
A capacity crowd of 40,000 pilgrims filled the vast St Peter’s Square to hear the 85-year-old pope, resplendent in red vestments, deliver the “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and to the World) message.
Speaking from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, the pope called for a return to peace in Nigeria, where he said “savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians.”
As he spoke, news was filtering in of a deadly attack there.
Gunmen attacked a church in the northern state of Yobe during a Christmas Eve service, killing six people, including the pastor, before setting the building ablaze.
It was the latest attack blamed on the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has repeatedly targeted churches during times of worship, including multiple attacks last year on Christmas Day.
The pope also prayed for peace in Syria, whose people have been “deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims.”
In a message watched by millions around the world, he called “for an end to the bloodshed… and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.”
His wide-ranging speech pressed for peace in the Middle East and appealed to China’s new leadership to respect religious freedom there.
In Indonesia, more than 200 Muslims threw rotten eggs at Christians wanting to hold a Christmas mass outside Jakarta, police said.
Around a hundred Christian worshippers had gathered for the mass near the spot where they hoped to build a church but saw the project barred by district government and community members.
At the midnight mass in Bethlehem, the most senior Roman Catholic bishop in the Middle East issued a special call for efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Only justice and peace in the Holy Land can reestablish balance and stability in the region and in the world,” Patriarch Fuad Twal told worshippers in the West Bank city, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
“From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the sufferings in the Middle East,” Twal said.