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Pope Francis Offers A Message Of Peace In Annual Christmas Day Blessing

Pope Francis delivered his Christmas day blessing from the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Sunday, before a crowd of some 40,000 people.

Pope Francis gave the traditional Christmas Day blessing on Sunday, calling for peace in Syria and other countries "scarred by war."

An estimated 40,000 tourists and Romans gathered in St. Peter's Square to hear the message, which was delivered from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, "Urbi et Orbi": to the city and the world.

The pope offered his message of peace to the "war-torn land of Syria, where far too much blood has been spilled." He said it is time that weapons "be still forever," so that "civil coexistence" might be restored to the country.

Pope Francis also addressed the people of the Holy Land, saying, "May Israelis and Palestinians have the courage and determination to write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build together a future of mutual understanding and harmony." He appealed for peace and dialogue in places ranging from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Colombia, and the Korean Peninsula.

This message comes at the end of what Pope Francis proclaimed the Holy Year of Mercy. Pope Francis, who turned 80 earlier this month, made six foreign trips this year, and oversaw many events and ceremonies with millions of pilgrims to the Vatican.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that the year was marked by the pope's efforts to heal divisions within the Christian world, and dissension in the Catholic Church.

His efforts have not gone without criticism — four cardinals expressed public outrage after the pope's meditation on marriage and family seemed to open a crack in the door, allowing some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive sacraments.

As Poggioli notes, when asked about the accusation that he is "Protestantizing" the Catholic Church, the pope replied, "I don't lose sleep over it."

Despite the opposition, Pope Francis enjoys overwhelming support among the faithful, she writes. Recently, the pope's Twitter following grew to more than 32 million followers across his nine accounts.

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