Pope Francis ushered in Christmas with a reminder that today’s refugees are fleeing their homes just as Joseph and Mary had to before the birth of Jesus Christ.
"So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary. We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day," Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica during his midnight Mass on December 24-25.
"In many cases, this departure is filled with hope, hope for the future; yet for many others this departure can only have one name: survival," he added.
Jesus "in his poverty and humility proclaims and shows that true power and authentic freedom are shown in honoring and assisting the weak and the frail," Francis said.
He said God is present in "the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door."
“Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity,” he said.
An estimated 10,000 listened the pope's Mass in the Basilica while many others followed the service from the square outside.
The 81-year-old pope is the son of Italian emigrants to Argentina and often speaks for the rights of migrants and refugees.
He spoke for about 90 minutes, mainly in Latin. At the completion of the service, the pontiff picked up a doll-size Jesus figure and, escorted by children, took it to a nativity scene inside the basilica.
At noon on Christmas Day, he is expected to deliver the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world) message and blessings from the central loggia of the basilica overlooking St. Peter's Square.
Francis is marking his fifth Christmas as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
With reporting by AP, dpa, The New York Times, and AFP