Pope Francis on Wednesday offered a message of hope to 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.’’
Preaching in St. Peter’s Square in Rome for the annual Christmas Day message, Pope Francis told tens of thousands of Christians who had gathered there that “the light of Christ is greater″ than the darkness “in human hearts” and ’’in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts.″
He emphasized there was still plenty of hope even in a world that often seems to be overtaken by darkness, despair and deadly conflicts.
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Pope 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.
At least 400,000 people have been killed in South Sudan in the 5-year civil war.
A peace deal to end the civil war was signed last year, and a November deadline to form a coalition government was extended to February to resolve some aspects of the deal.
The extraordinary call for peace in South Sudan, 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.
Apart from Pope Francis, other well known religious leaders have visited South Sudan to promote peace.
Respected Nigerian pastor, TB Joshua, visited South Sudan last November and led the President, Vice President and government officials into prayers for peace.
“Time has come for us to put our differences behind us,” Joshua told President Salva Kiir Mayardit in a public address at the Presidential Palace, attended by government dignitaries, military personnel and thousands of South Sudanese citizens.
“This is the voice of God. Our leaders should overcome their division and agree to work together for the good of the country,” he said, adding that “peace has no price” and leading the nation in a heartfelt prayer for peace.
T.B. Joshua, the founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) based in the commercial city of Lagos, who was personally received by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit during a visit to the East African nation on 12 November 2019, later spoke on the phone with rebel leader Riek Machar.
In his message on Wednesday, Pope Francis also spoke about peace and security in other parts of the world.
He 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.’’
He also called for an easing of the crisis in Lebanon, social tensions in Iraq and “a grave humanitarian crisis’’ in Yemen.
“May Emmanuel bring light to all the suffering members of our human family. May He soften our often stony and self-centred hearts, and make them channels of His love. On this joyful day, may He bring His tenderness to all and brighten the darkness of this world,” Pope Francis said.
The Pope 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 said a number of countries in the Americas “are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval”.
He mentioned “the beloved Venezuelan people, long tried by their political and social tensions.”
Pope Francis also noted that migrants forced by injustice to emigrate for greener pasture often face abuse, enslavement and torture in “inhumane detention camps″ and death during dangerous sea and desert crossings.
Christmas message has become an occasion for popes to address suffering in the world and press for solutions”.