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.