VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis, celebrating his first Christmas as Roman Catholic leader, on Wednesday called for dialogue to end the conflict in South Sudan and all wars, saying everyone should strive to be personal peacemakers.
Speaking to tens of thousands of people from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the same spot where he emerged to the world as pope when he was elected on March 13, Francis also made another appeal for the environment to be saved from "human greed and rapacity".
The leader of the 1.2 billion-member Church wove his first"Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and world) message around the theme of peace. He called for "social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state."
Thousands are believed to have died in violence divided along ethnic lines between the Nuer and Dinka tribes in the country, which seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war.
He also called for dialogue to end the conflicts in Syria, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, and prayed for a "favourable outcome" to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. "Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!" he said, saying their most vulnerable victims were children, elderly, battered women and the sick.
The thread running through the message was that individuals had a role in promoting peace, either with their neighbour or between nations. The message of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was directed at "every man or woman who keeps watch through the night, who hopes for a better world, who cares for others while humbly seeking to do his or her duty," he said.
Britain's Prince William (L) and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, arrive for a traditional Christmas Day Church Service at Sandringham in eastern England, on December 25, 2013.
After missing last year, Prince Harry also was in attendance. Britain's Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry leave a Christmas Day morning service at the church on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.
Children queue to give gifts and flowers to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) following a traditional Christmas Day Church Service at Sandringham in eastern England, on December 25, 2013.
Archbishop William Goh of the Catholic Church delivering a Christmas homily at a Christmas mass at the St Anne's Church in Sengkang on Tuesday, Dec 24, 2013.
Speaking to the congregation at the St Anne's Church in Sengkang on Christmas Eve, the new leader of the Catholic Church encouraged believers to be the "light and love of God in the world" through caring for those on the fringes of society.
In his Christmas homily, which is the first he is delivering as Archbishop, the 56-year-old said: "When there is love, light shines forth because nothing speaks louder than love."
Staff and visitors to the maternity ward applaud the Kandang Kerbau Hospital choir who sang Christmas carols on December 23, 2013.
A visitor to the Resorts World Sentosa's South East Asia Aquarium hugs a diver dressed as Santa Claus through the Coral Garden Tank.
The performance was part of the aquarium's Christmas celebrations.
A member of Clowns Without Borders performs in front of young survivors of the super Typhoon Haiyan as part of recovery work by Plan International at a tent city in Tacloban city, Leyte province, on December 25, 2013.
A participant in a Santa Clause costume gestures before the start of the104th edition of the Copa Nadal (Christmas Cup) in Barcelona's Port Vell on December 25, 2013.
Mohammad Farizul, 11, one of the 100 ST School Pocket Money Fund recipients invited to a Christmas party receives his present, a school bag, from Santa Claus.
This picture taken on December 24, 2013 shows the illuminated Saint Mary's Church in Siliguri, India on Christmas Eve.
Despite Christians forming a little over 2 percent of the billion plus population in India, Christmas is celebrated with much fanfare and zeal throughout the country.
Indonesian congregations from two churches attend a mass prayer outside the presidential palace in Jakarta on December 25, 2013. Hundreds of Indonesian Christians held a Christmas service on December 25, in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta to protest at the closure of their churches due to pressure by Muslim hardliners.
Indian children dressed as Santa Claus play near a sand sculpture depicting God and Jesus Christ, and created by sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik, at Golden Sea Beach in Puri.
People watch giant waves, on December 25, 2013 in Nice, southeastern France. Gale-force winds and pounding rain Tuesday lashed Britain and France, killing at least five people, disrupting Christmas travel and leaving tens of thousands without power.
Catholics attend a Christmas mass at Lai Yen Church, outside Hanoi.
Hanoi Archbishop Nhon gives communion to Catholics during a Christmas mass at Lai Yen Church, outside Hanoi.
People play a nativity scene during the unveiling ceremony of the crib in St Peter's Square at the Vatican, on December 24, 2013.
Children sing during the unveiling ceremony of the crib in St Peter's Square at the Vatican, on December 24, 2013.
Members of the "Berlin Seals" swim association take a bath in the Orankesee lake in Berlin during their tradtional Christmas Swimming on December 25, 2013. Temperatures in the German capital reached up to plus nine degrees Celsius.
Ruben Torres, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, waves to people from a boat with fishermen on Christmas Eve along the coast of Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiago.
Members of a local kayak club dressed as Santa Claus prepare to take their kayaks into Zhujiang River during a promotional event to celebrate Christmas in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, December 25, 2013.
A water skier dressed as the Grinch skis in the Potomac River at National Harbor to celebrate Christmas Eve in Maryland.
A water skier dressed as Santa is joined by a man dressed as a reindeer as they ski in the Potomac River.
US troops from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) pose for a photograph during Christmas celebrations in Kabul, December 25, 2013.
NATO troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) pose for pictures during Christmas celebrations at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, December 25, 2013.
A picture shows the crib in St Peter's Square at the Vatican.
Pope Francis kisses the baby Jesus statue as he leads the Christmas night mass in the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
Pope Francis celebrates the Christmas night mass in the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
NATO troops from the ISAF wish each other Merry Christmas during a Christmas Eve mass at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul.
Pope Francis greets a child during a Christmas Eve mass
The New York Stock Exchange is pictured reflected in a Christmas ornament on a tree in front of the building in New York.
Pope Francis blesses the crowd at the end of a Christmas Eve mass.
Christmas shoppers walk past a bakery advertising hot meat pies for residents whose electricity remains knocked out by an ice storm in Toronto.
People dressed up as Father Frost, the equivalent of Santa Claus, and Snow Maiden, march as others perform in celebration of Christmas in central Minsk, December 25, 2013.
Omiah Panton, 18 months, cries for her mommy who placed her on Santa's lap inside a Winter Wonderland tent at a Christmas Eve meal hosted by the Los Angeles Mission.
Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (front row, 2nd R), attends a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Joseph Chaldean Church in Baghdad.
A view of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity as people gather for Christmas eve celebrations in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, on December 24, 2013.
People play a nativity scene during the unveiling ceremony of the crib in St Peter's Square at the Vatican.
Parishoners attend Christmas eve mass at the Cathedral of St. Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Travelers make their way through the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, which was decorated by colored lights, on Christmas Eve in New York.
Window cleaners dressed as Santa Claus and a reindeer during an event to celebrate Christmas at a shopping mall in Tokyo on Dec. 19.
A giant inflatable Santa Claus decoration is seen in front of the Guangzhou TV Tower lit by coloured lights on the Christmas Eve in Guangzhou, Guangdong province December 24, 2013.
Members of the school choir of the Terra Nova private school perform at a Christmas market at the Werdmuehleplatz square in Zurich on Dec. 19.
Christmas illuminations light the Bahnhofstrasse shopping street in Zurich.
An amateur spider keeper, Yegor Konkin, 24, dressed as Santa Claus with a venomous Phormictopus antillensis spider placed on his face, prepares for Christmas and New Year performances at his parents’ apartment in the town of Minusinsk, Russia.
Penguins wearing Santa Claus and Christmas tree costumes during a promotional event for Christmas at an amusement park in Yongin, Seoul.
The National Christmas Tree at the White House in the background, with the flag at half staff to honor the death of South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela on Dec. 6.