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Pope's Christmas Day homily condemns 'monstrous evil' fuelling refugee crisis

Francis praises generosity of countries accepting Syrian refugees, as archbishop of Westminster attacks domestic violence

Pope Francis has praised the generosity of countries which have accepted Syrian refugees and condemned the “monstrous evil” which has forced increasing numbers of people to flee their homes in the Middle East.
Delivering his Christmas Day homily at St Peter’s in Rome amid heavy security, the pontiff said he was praying for an end to human suffering in a world afflicted by war, poverty and extremist attacks.
Francis referred to “brutal acts of terrorism” in Paris in November as well as conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine.
“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he told worshippers gathered in St Peter’s Square.
Thousands of people underwent airport-style security screening as they entered St Peter’s Square. Police armed with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area. Security around the Vatican has stepped up since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month.
At the end of a year in which more than a million people have sought sanctuary in Europe, Francis asked God to “repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees”.
The pope called for “encouragement … to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives”.
He praised those who are helping migrants “to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them”.
The year has been dominated by images of the exodus from Syria, with refugees risking their lives in search of safety, crossing seas and trudging across Europe. Germany has seen the largest number of asylum applications in Europe. The UK has pledged to accept 20,000 people over five years from refugee camps in countries bordering Syria; the first 1,000 arrived before Christmas.
Francis said he hoped recent UN initiatives would end the conflicts in Syria and Libya: “May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples.”
In the UK, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said an Islamic State “apocalypse” has left Christianity facing “elimination” in the very region where the faith was born two millennia ago.
In his Christmas Day sermon in Canterbury cathedral, Welby described the Islamic extremists as “a Herod of today”, referring to the despotic king of Judea at the time of Jesus’s birth.
Isis, he said, was “igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression”.
He told the congregation: “Confident that these are the last days, using force and indescribable cruelty, [Isis] seem to welcome all opposition, certain that the warfare unleashed confirms that these are indeed the end times.
“They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began.
“This apocalypse is defined by themselves and heralded only by the angel of death.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and the leader of the Catholic church in England, focused part of his Christmas homily on “gratuitous violence” in the home and the suffering of persecuted Christians around the world.
One of the lessons of the nativity was that “in the crib there is absolutely no place for gratuitous violence. In the presence of a child we should always watch our tongues and behaviour, for childhood lessons of anger and violence are never forgotten”, he said.
The cardinal drew a link between domestic violence and violence committed in the name of religion. “Let us be resolved to lay aside our own tendencies to angry violence so that we may condemn, with integrity, those who perpetrate such violence and claim for it the name of God.”

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