Dec. 26, 2013
MANILA (UPDATED) – Pope Francis, celebrating his first Christmas as Roman Catholic leader, on Wednesday prayed for help for the typhoon-hit Philippines.
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 described Catholic-majority Filipinos as “beloved people”.
“Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity,” he said. “Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by the recent typhoon.”
In a Christmas morning mass at the Sto. Niño Church in Tacloban, the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines assured survivors of super typhoon Yolanda that they are not alone.
Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto said the world is ready to help Filipinos recover from the typhoon.
He also brought with him a message of hope from Pope Francis.
“Despite the tragedy you face, you are not alone. God is with you, god is with us,” he said.
“It is my privilege to bring to you the solidarity of his holiness, Pope Francis,” he added. “You know how much he cares for you. He keeps you in his prayers, and he wants to assure you of the faithful love of God.”
He also called for dialogue to end the conflict in South Sudan and all wars, saying everyone should strive to be personal peacemakers.
Aid continues to flow into typhoon-devastated areas, underscoring a massive local and international relief effort launched in Yolanda’s aftermath.
The typhoon, the strongest to ever hit land, struck central Philippines on November 8, destroying almost everything in its path. It killed over 6,000 people, left nearly 1,800 missing.
The United Nations recently announced an appeal for $800 million of funding to provide 12 months of assistance for 14 million people affected by the typhoon.
The funds would be used to provide access to food, shelter, water, health and sanitation services.
Call for peace
Pope Francis, in his first “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and world) message on Christmas day, also made another appeal for the environment to be saved from “human greed and rapacity”.
He wove his 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.”
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.
“God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world,” he said.
Breath of fresh air
Pilgrims came from all over the world for Christmas at the Vatican and some said it was because they felt Francis had brought a breath of fresh air to the Church.
“(He) is bringing a new era into the Church, a Church that is focusing much more on the poor and that is more austere, more lively ..” said Dolores Di Benedetto, who came from the pope’s homeland, Argentina, to attend Christmas eve Mass.
Giacchino Sabello, an Italian, said he wanted to get a first-hand look at the new pope: “I thought it would be very nice to hear the words of this pope close up and to see how the people are overwhelmed by him.”
In his speech, Francis asked God to “look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers.”
He also called for a “dignified life” for migrants, praying tragedies such as one in which hundreds died in a shipwreck off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa are never repeated, and made a particular appeal against human trafficking, which he called a “crime against humanity”. – with reports from Reuters, ANC