Pope Francis called for “dialogue” between families and nations, and brought attention to conflict around the world, in his annual “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas message and blessing.
“Sisters and brothers, what would our world be like without the patient dialogue of the many generous persons who keep families and communities together? In this time of pandemic, we have come to realize this even more,” he said, from the central loggia in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City.
“Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried. There is a growing tendency to withdraw. To do it all by ourselves. To stop making an effort to encounter others,” he went on, speaking to a masked crowd that braved the rain for his midnight address.
The pope’s address came as COVID-19 cases surged again in Italy. On Friday, a record 50,599 new daily cases were reported and 141 died, bringing the nation’s total official death count to 136,386.
The Omicron variant wave has also prompted the Vatican to impose a vaccine mandate on all staff who have not already recovered from COVID-19.
The Holy Father, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, called attention to ongoing or threatening conflicts across the world, including in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, the Ukraine, as well as “the continuing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, that drag on without a resolution.”
“Nor should we forget Bethlehem, the place where Jesus first saw the light, which is experiencing hardship also from the economic repercussions of the pandemic, preventing pilgrims from visiting the Holy Land and adversely affecting the life of the people,” he said.
“Even as the message of the birth of the Savior, the true source of peace, resounds in our hearts and in the whole world, we continue to witness a great number of conflicts, crises, and disagreements … We have become so used to them that immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence.”
The pope granted plenary indulgences — the remission of punishments for sins — to Catholics who watch the address and receive the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion.