On the birthday of the Prince of Peace, Pope Francis called for an end to war in the Holy Land and throughout the world as well as the arms trade that fuels it. Delivering his annual “urbi et orbi” Christmas blessing while seated on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope contrasted the “endless peace” that Christ brings with the work of the “prince of this world,” who “sows the seeds of death” and “plots against the Lord.”
“So saying ‘yes’ to the Prince of Peace means saying ‘no’ to war, and this with courage: saying no to every war, to the very mindset of war, an aimless voyage, a defeat without victors, madness without excuses,” Pope Francis said to those gathered in the square at Roman noon on Dec. 25. Instead of war and conflict, the pope reflected on Isaiah’s prophecy about a day “when a nation shall not lift up sword against nation” but instead “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”
“With God’s help, let us make every effort to work for the coming of that day!” the pope said in his urbi et orbi address, which is given “to the city [of Rome] and the world” each year on Christmas, Easter, and other solemn occasions. Pope Francis said the coming of Christ gave mankind “the hope of being born for heaven” and lit “an undying flame” that is even still detectable “amid the deep shadows” of war covering the Holy Land today.
“Rejoice, you who have abandoned all hope, for God offers you his outstretched hand,” the pope said. “He does not point a finger at you but offers you his little baby hand in order to set you free from your fears, to relieve you of your burdens, and to show you that, in his eyes, you are more valuable than anything else.” The pope also frequently connected the events surrounding Christ’s birth with crises in the world today. For instance, he spoke of modern “massacres of the innocents,” including “in the mother’s womb, in the routes of the desperate in search of hope, in the lives of many children whose childhood is devastated by war.”
“They are the little Jesuses today,” Francis said. The pope also spoke out forcefully against the arms trade — a frequent target of his criticism. Noting that the human heart is “weak and impulsive,” the pontiff said that “if we find instruments of death in our hands, sooner or later we will use them.” “Today, as at the time of Herod, the evil that opposes God’s light hatches its plot in the shadows of hypocrisy and concealment,” the pope said of the use of public money to fund the arms trade. “How much violence and killing takes place amid deafening silence, unbeknownst to many!”
The Roman pontiff said funding for weaponry should be redirected to true public goods and called upon journalists “to bring to light the interests and profits that move the puppet-strings of war.” Pope Francis also spoke at length about the war in Israel and Palestine, expressing his particular closeness to Christians in Gaza and the entire Holy Land. The pope also called for the release of all hostages from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and an end to military operations “with their appalling harvest of innocent victims.”
The pope also prayed for peace in conflicts around the world. Speaking of Ukraine, he called for all to “renew our spiritual and human closeness to its embattled people, so that through the support of each of us, they may feel the concrete reality of God’s love.”
The pope also prayed for peace in Armenia and Azerbaijan, in Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Yemen, and in various places in Africa, like the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa. Francis expressed hope that “the day is approaching when fraternal bonds on the Korean peninsula will be strengthened, opening paths of dialogue and reconciliation that can create the conditions for lasting peace.”
Turning his attention to the Americas, Pope Francis prayed that the Christ Child might help leaders find solutions to social and political disagreements, poverty, inequality, and “the painful phenomenon of migration.” Pope Francis said that “from the manger, the Child Jesus asks us to be the voice of those who have no voice,” including those “who lack water and bread,” people “who cannot find a job or have lost one,” and those who have been “forced to flee their homeland in search of a better future.”
Following his address, the pontiff recited the Angelus and then offered the urbi et orbi blessing, which carried with it the possibility of a plenary indulgence not only for pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square but also for those who “piously follow” the ceremony remotely.
During his address, the pope expressed his hope that the time of preparation for the 2025 Jubilee Year, which will begin on Dec. 24, 2024, with the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, will “be an opportunity for the conversion of hearts, for the rejection of war, and the embrace of peace, and for joyfully responding to the Lord’s call” expressed by the prophet Isaiah, “’to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.’”
“Those words were fulfilled in Jesus, who is born today in Bethlehem,” the pope said. “Let us welcome him! Let us open our hearts to him, who is Savior, the Prince of Peace!”