The head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholic Christians said in his Christmas message that he hoped Yemen’s recent truce would end a war that has killed about 10,000 people since 2015 and pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of famine.
“My wish for a happy Christmas is a wish for fraternity,” he told pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square on Tuesday, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture. Fraternity among people with different ideas… Fraternity among persons of different religions.”
“My thoughts turn to Yemen, in the hope that the truce brokered by the international community may finally bring relief to all those children and people exhausted by war and famine,” he said.
Will the ceasefire in Yemen hold?
The pope also spoke of the war in Syria, which has forced millions from their homes and reduced swathes of the country to rubble.
He called for a “political solution” to the conflict “so that the Syrian people, especially all those who were forced to leave their own lands and seek refuge elsewhere, can return to live in peace in their own country”.
Francis also said he hoped for renewed peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians “that can put an end to a conflict that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love”.
Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, located near Jerusalem but cut off from the city by Israel’s separation barrier, has seen an increase in visitors this season after several down years because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Bethlehem’s mayor Anton Salman, said that “the message of Palestinians on Christmas is that we are staying in the holy land and will maintain it and resist the occupation until our national goals are achieved, specifically independence and establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital”, Ma’an news reported.
Visitors from across the world gathered in the “little town” on Christmas Eve for midnight mass, queueing to see the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born and taking in a festive parade.
They were able to view the Church of the Nativity’s newly restored mosaics dating to the Crusader era after a major renovation.
The Holy Land – Al Jazeera’s news special