Ukraine. Syria. Mexico. The Islamic State. With a year defined by civil wars, bloody insurgencies and horrific acts of brutality drawing swiftly to a close, it's hard to imagine that 2015 will yield anything more than 12 more months of humanity at its worst.
So when tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square Thursday to hear Pope Francis deliver the Catholic Church's traditional "Urbi et Orbi" ("To the city and to the world") Christmas message, the pontiff sought to focus the world's attention on the suffering of refugees, hostages and other victims of the brutal conflicts that continue to rage across the world.
"Truly there are so many tears this Christmas," said Francis from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
The pontiff described the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as going conflicts in Libya, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan that most of the Western world has forgotten. He expressed anguish for child victims of violence, including the recent terrorist attack on a Pakistani military school, recalling the persecution of ancient Christian communities alongside those from other ethnic and religious groups while praying for those facing extermination in Iraq and Syria.
"Today I ask him, the Savior of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution," Francis said. "May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world."
The pope also thanked those courageously helping people infected with Ebola in West Africa. "May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea," he said. "As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided."
You can read the whole text of Francis' Christmas message here.