By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
THE VATICAN, VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, leader of the 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church, condemned murder and violence carried out by religious extremists in the name of god. During his annual Christmas message the pope condemned the “brutal persecution” of minorities carried out by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and said the joy of Christmas was blemished by the suffering of children in the Middle East and around the world. “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,” Pope Francis said during his Christmas message on Thursday. The Pope spoke emotionally of “children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence.”
He alluded to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria as well as the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in the Palestinian Authority, he said “I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born,” Christians believe Jesus Christ was born in a manger in the town of Bethlehem in modern day Palestine.
Not far from the small town where Christians believe Jesus was born, Christmas has been a difficult time for Gaza’s Christian community, like all Gazans. The community is struggling to provide for their families after the summer’s devastating war with Israel “This Christmas is not like last year,” said, 24-year-old Hussam Abu Shaban, “Most Christians just take a small tree for the kids. They’ve lost a lot of family members, some from the war, some not.” More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas this summer. Several months after the violence buildings remain demolished and rubble remains where homes once stood. “There were a lot of Christians killed in this war. Christian homes were destroyed,” Nabeel al-Salfiti, 62, said, “Every year it’s been tougher.”
“Christmas is inevitably coming with its decoration, its finery and its celebrations, but our inner souls are still affected, in all respects, by the devastating effects of war,” Nahed al-Dabbagh, 25 said after attending Christmas Eve ceremonies at the Latin Church in central Gaza City. “We hope that the next Christmas will be a feast of goodness and peace on the Palestinian people.”
The Pope condemned violence and murder, especially violence that targets children. Without elaborating, the Holy Pontiff Spoke of the horrific murders of children committed during biblical times, possibly referring to the recent brutal and horrific attack carried out by the Pakistani Taliban at a school in Peshawar which took the lives of more than 100 children. He spoke of “contemporary Herods,” with blood on their hands, referring to the Biblical king who ordered children to be murdered because he saw the birth of Jesus as a threat to his power.
Speaking of world’s refugees who have been displaced by conflict and tragedy he asked that “indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigorous of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity”.
The Holy Pontiff also appealed for an end to conflicts in African countries, called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, condemned the attack by Taliban fighters that killed more than 130 students in Pakistan last week, and thanked those helping to fight the Ebola epidemic and help the victims of the historic outbreak.
For more information please see:
Al Jazeera – A Muted Christmas in Gaza – 25 December 2014
Al Jazeera – Pope Decries Violence in God’s Name – 25 December 2014
CNN – Pope’s Christmas Message: Iraq and Syria Have Suffered Too Long – 25 December 2014
The New York Times – Francis, In Christmas Day Message, Focuses On Children in Peril – 25 December 2014