Speaking from the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica to the crowds of people below, Francis made a Christmas Day appeal for peace in the world.
The pope said he grieved the ‘abominable attack’ of Hamas against southern Israel on October 7 and called for the release of hostages.
He also called for an end to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and the ‘appalling harvest of innocent civilians’ and urged that humanitarian aid reach those in need.
Palestinian flags waved in the crowd as one faithful held up a sign reading ‘peace’.
Francis devoted his Christmas Day blessing to a call for peace in the world, noting that the biblical story of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem sent a message of peace.
But he said that city in the West Bank ‘is a place of sorrow and silence’ this year.
Bethlehem did away with its giant Christmas tree, marching bands and flamboyant nativity scene that normally draw tourists, settling for just a few festive lights.
In the centre, a huge Palestinian flag had been unfolded with a banner declaring that ‘The bells of Bethlehem ring for a ceasefire in Gaza’.
In his annual Urbi et Orbi, Francis took particular aim at the weapons industry, which he said was fuelling the conflicts around the globe, with scarcely anyone paying attention.
‘It should be talked about and written about, so as to bring to light the interests and the profits that move the puppet strings of war,’ he said.
‘And how can we even speak of peace when arms production, sales and trade are on the rise?’
Francis has frequently described the weapons industry as ‘merchants of death’ and has said that wars today, in Ukraine in particular, are being used to try out new weapons or use up old stockpiles.
He called for peace between Israel and Palestinians, and for the conflict to be resolved ‘through sincere and persevering dialogue between the parties, sustained by strong political will and the support of the international community’.