Pope urges aid access to Syria in Christmas speech

By The Citizen

Pope Francis has used his first Christmas Day address to urge access for humanitarian aid in Syria.

He told thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's Square in the Vatican to pray for a peaceful end to violence in Syria and other conflict zones.The Argentine pope also said tragic incidents involving migrants trying to reach Europe should not be repeated.

Christians around the world are celebrating Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.

It was the third successive year that the Syrian conflict had been a main focus of the Christmas speech, one of the addresses known as Urbi et Orbi.

'Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fuelling hatred and vengeance,' said the 77-year-old pontiff.

'Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering.'

He also called for peace in Iraq and a successful outcome in talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Conflicts in Africa were another focus of the Pope's address.

He called the violence in the Central African Republic 'often forgotten and overlooked' in a country 'torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty'.

He also urged an end to fighting in Democratic Republic of Congo, and for 'social harmony' in South Sudan.

On Tuesday evening thousands gathered in Bethlehem's Manger Square for Christmas Eve celebrations.

The nearby Church of the Nativity sits on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born.

Correspondents said it was the biggest crowd to attend the event in years.