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Pope Laments 'Brutal Persecution' Of Religious Minorities In Christmas Message

Pope Francis (center) gives his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on December 25.

Pope Francis has condemned this year's "brutal" religious persecution in the Middle East while urging peace in conflict zones around the world in his annual Christmas Day message.

"Truly there are so many tears this Christmas," he said from the central balcony of the Vatican Basilica, in front of large crowds of faithful in St Peter's Square and millions of TV watchers around the world.

The 78-year-old pontiff condemned Islamic State (IS) militants who have killed or displaced Shi'ite Muslims, Christians, and others in Syria and Iraq who do not share the group's extremist ideologies.

The pope then departed from his text and spoke emotionally of "children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence."

He specifically mentioned last week's deadly attack on a military-run school in Pakistan, where 142 schoolchildren were killed by militants.

"May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week," he said.

The pope also appealed for an end to conflicts in African and Middle Eastern countries, urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and thanked those helping the victims of the Ebola epidemic, which has claimed thousands of lives.

He also mentioned the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

"Protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation," he said.

On December 24, the pope celebrated Christmas Eve Mass after making a surprise telephone call to Iraqi refugees in a camp near the main Kurdish city of Irbil.

He told them they were like Jesus, forced to flee because there was no room for them.

The pope also said they must "persevere" despite their plight.

With reporting by AFP and dpa
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