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Pope Francis Prays For Peace In Conflict Areas

Pope Francis Celebrates First Christmas Eve Mass
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WATCH: Pope Francis Celebrates His First Christmas Eve Mass

Pope Francis has called for access to humanitarian aid in Syria and "social harmony" in South Sudan in his first Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" ("To the City and to the World") address.

The leader of the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church also pleaded for divine aid to rescue child soldiers "robbed of their childhood" and for peace in the conflict-torn Central African Republic, which he said was "often forgotten and overlooked."

Francis, who spoke on December 25 from the central balcony of the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica to some 70,000 cheering tourists, pilgrims, and Romans in the square below, wished everyone a Merry Christmas:

Francis said he was joining all those hoping "for a better world."

Among the places ravaged by conflict, Francis singled out Syria, which marked its third Christmas since a civil war erupted there in 2011, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Iraq.

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

The conflict in Syria is estimated to have killed more than 126,000 people since it started in 2011, and the violence there has unsettled the entire Middle East.

In South Sudan, thousands are believed to have died in violence divided along ethnic lines between the Nuer and Dinka tribes in the country, which seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war.

Francis also prayed that refugees receive hope, consolation and assistance, recalling the hundreds of migrants who drowned trying to reach European shores this year.

Francis, who is marking his first Christmas as leader of the Catholic Church, celebrated his first Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican on December 24.

Francis is riding a wave of popularity and influence after a year of shaking up the papacy with his humble style, sense of humor, and common touch.

Elsewhere on December 24, thousands gathered in Bethlehem's Manger Square for Christmas Eve celebrations, in what was reportedly the biggest crowd to attend the event in years.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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