Ethics Institutions Politics

Pope Francis laments the ‘helpless cries of children’ around the world

Pope Francis delivers his annual Christmas blessing to the city and the world
Pope Francis delivers his annual Christmas blessing to the city and the world

Pope Francis delivers his annual Christmas blessing to the city and the world

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis used his Christmas Day message to make a heartfelt plea to save the world’s children from war, persecution and abuse.

Delivering his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” message (Latin for “to the city and the world”), the pope departed from his prepared text to say the “helpless cries” of children were not being heard as they were being massacred in trouble spots including Iraq and Syria, as well as Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

The Vatican estimated 80,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square to hear the pope’s message and pilgrims who had travelled from as far as Brazil, Taiwan,  and Turkey. Many were in tears, visibly moved by the pontiff’s words.

“My thoughts go out to all the children today who are killed and mistreated, be it those even before they are born who are deprived of the generous love of their parents and buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life,” the pope told the crowd.

“Also those children who are displaced because of wars an persecutions, abused and exploited before our eyes and with our silent complicity, children massacred under bombings even where the Son of God was born,” he said in reference to Bethlehem, located in in the Israel-occupied West Bank.

“Today their helpless silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods,” he said.  “There are many tears this Christmas with the tears of baby Jesus.”

Earlier in his message the pope condemned the “brutal persecution” of Christians and other religious and ethnic groups in Iraq and Syria, and called for an end to bloodshed in global trouble spots including Ukraine and Nigeria.

Speaking from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to the crowd, the pontiff said Christians and other ethnic and religious groups “for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict.”

“May Christmas bring them hope,” Francis said. “May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.”

Before celebrating Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve, the pope made a surprise telephone call to Christian refugees in a camp in Ankawa near Erbil in northern Iraq to express his support and solidarity.

“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he was forced to flee,” the pope told them during the call arranged by Italian Catholic TV station, Sat2000. “There was no room for Him either, and He had to flee to Egypt later to save Himself. That means we are praying even harder for you.”

The pope has condemned the violence several times during his November visit to Turkey. Earlier this week, he released an open letter to Christians in the region and called on Muslim religious leaders to “unanimously condemn” violent persecution.”

“Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence,” the pope said in that message.


About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • God’s kingdom or heavenly government will soon provide relief to all children, as well as adults, on the earth. This will be realized during the upcoming 1,000-year rule of Jesus as King over humans on earth (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 11:1-9).

    Then God’s kingdom will come and God’s will shall be done in heaven, as well as on earth (Matthew 6:10).

    The pope is evidently not aware of these promises from God, nor of the blessings that said kingdom will bring to meek mankind on earth, including no more death, mourning, outcry nor pain (Revelation 21:1-4).

  • Ah, yes. “The helpless cries of children” round the world.


    In Africa and south America, Catholic missionaries tell the people who cannot feed the children they have not to use sinful birth control. Burgeoning populations of poor people who cannot feed and educate their children. Those children that survive continue the cycle.

    In Massachusetts and Illinois, Catholic charities used gay marriage as their pretext to close down their adoption services, rather than continue their services without the taxpayer’s dime if they had to stop discriminating against gay couples. A Mormon adoption agency discriminates against gay people, but they don’t demand state money to do it, making it perfectly legal.

    And what about the millions spent by the Catholic Church to fight marriage equality? And the billions paid out for lawsuits? You sure could have fed a lot of children with that money, Mr. Pope.

    And what about the children of gay couples denied the legal and social protection that having married parents would give them? Well, they are certainly not as important as the dominionist tendencies of this church.

    And what about the cries of the children molested and abused by the catholic church for centuries? It’s in Chaucer and Boccaccio. There was a big scandal in the early 1600’s about molestation and hierarchical coverups. Read Karen Liebreich’s “Fallen Order”. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    And what about the cries of the children who will grow up to be gay, regardless of the Church’s teaching?

    If they grow pu at all.

  • Children are and have been abused in every culture from the beginning to the present. While there are no words adequate to describe the tragedy and the anguish of these people, the Church, as an institution, has always condemned the exploitation of anyone. A few of its members over the centuries have grossly violated Christian principles ( the “Golden Rule”, for instance) and the Ten Commandments.
    All people, must unite to combat brutality in all its manifestations, whether members of religious organizations or not. And those of us who are believers must pray and search for a permanent solution to this problem. Part of the solution lies in education; part lies in community effort and in teaching all people, beginning at the family level, to protect and to have the greatest respect for the vulnerable in the land, both young and old alike and to learn compassion for all who are suffering. In fact, to learn compassion for every person, including animals! that one encounters.

  • ” the Church, as an institution, has always condemned the exploitation of anyone.”…

    when it wasn’t covering up said exploitation in order to avoid a “scandal”.

    You might want to read the works of st. Peter Damian. Quoting from one article on him:

    “As a child in Ravenna, Italy, Peter Damian lost both of his parents. His medieval biographer claimed that he spent time with an abusive older brother before another brother, who was archpriest of Ravenna, took him in and saw to his education. In the diocesan cathedral school he attended, Damian became increasingly scandalized by the behavior of both students and professors. Rather than pursue a lucrative career as a professor and cleric, he chose to enter monastic life and devoted himself to the work of reforming the church. His accomplishments eventually included the creation of the process for electing popes.
    Complaints from Damian about the church’s unwillingness to confront the sexual behavior of the clergy, however, met with inaction. In 1049 Damian wrote to Pope Leo IX (1048-54) about the cancer of sexual abuse that was spreading through the church: boys and adolescents were being forced and seduced into performing acts of sodomy by priests and bishops; there were problems with sexual harassment among higher clergy; and many members of the clergy were keeping concubines.

    “Peter Damian warned the pope that bishops were contributing to the growth of the problem by their failure to enforce church discipline. Members of the clergy who sexually abused others demonstrated by their actions that they had no fear of God, Damian argued. Such men were afraid only of being despised by the people and of losing their positions; they would do anything to avoid being stripped of their clerical status and identity. Knowing that their bishop would not remove them from their office and ministry gave such men license to continue in their wickedness. Thus in failing to discipline abusive members of the clergy, the bishops stood as guilty as the men who committed the crimes.
    Convinced that it was the lack of episcopal leadership that was causing the sexual abuse scandal in his day, Damian offered this admonition:

    “Listen, you do-nothing superiors of clerics and priests. Listen, and even though you feel sure of yourselves, tremble at the thought that you are partners in the guilt of others; those, I mean, who wink at the sins of their subjects that need correction and who by ill-considered silence allow them license to sin. Listen, I say, and be shrewd enough to understand that all of you alike are deserving of death, that is, not only those who do such things, but also they who approve those who practice them (Rom 1:32).

    “Drawing on the model that the bishop or priest is married to the church, Damian accused both those who sexually abused the people under their care and those who allowed such abuse to take place with the crime of spiritual incest. But whereas biological parents who committed incest were subject in the Middle Ages to excommunication and exile, Damian felt that bishops who betrayed their spiritual children deserved a harsher penalty. Their betrayal ran deeper.

    Unfortunately, Pope Leo IX disagreed with Peter Damian’s analysis of the problem of clerical sexual abuse. He was willing to punish clerics who committed acts of anal intercourse with boys and adolescents, but he minimized the punishment of clerics who performed other sexual acts with children and adults of both sexes.

    Karen Liebreich wrote a great book on a similar scandal in 17th century Italy: Fallen Order. It’s scary how that which happened 400 years ago has continued to happen with virtually no significant change. And then there was the popish practice of having boys castrated to keep their soprano voices for the musical pleasure of the pope.

    Here’s the theological question: you cannot become a priest without the charisma (literally, a gift) from God of a vocation. The Church has a way of determining who has such a vocation, because many think they do, but don’t. So is God calling sexual predators to the priesthood, is he indifferent to sexual abuse and thinks it holy, or is the church just making it all up?

  • Children are the joy of their parents and siblings. They are the future torch bearers of families, societies, nations and the Planet. May God bless the little ones with security and protection.