Pope Francis has denounced the “brutal persecution” of religious and ethnic minorities, in his traditional Christmas Day address.
In his second “Urbi et Orbi” – to the city and the world – Christmas message, the pontiff highlighted the plight of victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq.
“Too many people are being held hostage or massacred” in Nigeria, he added.
Pope Francis also urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and condemned Taliban attacks in Pakistan.
Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter’s Square to hear the Argentine Pope deliver his annual message.
He said Christians in Iraq and Syria had endured conflict for too long, and “together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution”.
“May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world,” the Pope said.
In his Christmas Day address, he also asked for peace in Ukraine, Nigeria, in Libya, South Sudan and other parts of Africa.
He called for comfort for the families of the 132 children killed in a Taliban attack in Pakistan last week – and for the victims of the Ebola epidemic.
On Wednesday he made a surprise telephone call to refugees in a camp near Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, reports the BBC.
“You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either,” he told them.
Advances in Iraq by Islamic State militants have forced tens of thousands of Christians and people from other religious minorities to flee.