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Pope Makes Christmas Call To Iraqi Refugees

Pope Francis (file photo)
Pope Francis (file photo)

Pope Francis has celebrated Christmas Eve Mass after speaking by telephone to Iraqi refugees in a camp near the main Kurdish city of Irbil.

The leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics made the call to refugees at a camp in Ankawa by satellite phone on December 24.

The 78-year-old Argentine pope urged the refugees to "persevere."

"Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart," he told them.

"Innocent children, children who have died, exploited children... I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross."

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

"You're like Jesus on this night, and I bless you and am close to you," he said.

Advances in Iraq by IS militants have forced tens of thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities to flee to Kurdish controlled areas.

In the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said some 150,000 Christians had been displaced by the IS offensive.

Iraq's displaced Christians "still live in a tragic situation and there are no quick solutions for them," Sako told AFP news agency.

Later in his homily, during Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis urged people to have greater empathy toward family and friends.

He said the world needed "tenderness" and "warmth."

The pontiff also said Christmas was a time to remember that God's message of peace "is stronger than darkness and corruption."

"The question put to us simply by the infant's presence is: 'Do I allow God to love me?'" he said.

"Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us?"

On December 25, the Pope will deliver his Urbi et Orbi ("to the city and the world") address from the central balcony of St. Peter's Square to tens of thousands of people.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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