Pope Francis stands in front of a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates Mass on Christmas eve, at St. Peter’s basilica at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. (Credit: Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP.)
ROME – On Christmas day, as many are unable to see friends and family due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said the development of vaccines is a “light of hope,” and urged wealthy nations to ensure equal access for poorer countries.
Speaking from inside the library of the Vatican’s apostolic palace, Pope Francis in his Dec. 25 Urbi et Orbi address said that on Christmas day, “we celebrate the light of Christ who comes into the world, and he comes for all, not just for a few.”
“Today, in this moment of darkness and uncertainty amid the pandemic, some lights of hope have appeared, such as the discovery the vaccines,” he said, adding, “for these lights to be able to illuminate and bring hope to the entire world, they must be available to everyone.”
“We cannot allow closed nationalisms to prevent us from living as the true human family that we are. Neither can we allow the radical virus of individualism to overcome us and render us indifferent to the suffering of our brothers and sisters,” the pope said, insisting that “I cannot put myself before others, putting the laws of the market and invention patents above the law of love and the health of humanity.”
Francis then appealed to all heads of states, businesses and international organizations “to promote cooperation and not competition, and to seek a solution for everyone, vaccines for everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable in every region of the planet. In the first place, the most needy and vulnerable.”
Francis’s appeal comes days after the Vatican green-lighted the use of two controversial vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which both used cell lines derived from fetuses aborted in the last century during confirmatory testing.
On Dec. 21, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note with the pope’s blessing saying that when “ethically irreproachable” vaccines are not available, it is morally acceptable to use COVID-19 vaccines such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna since, in their evaluation, the abortion from which the cells were harvested is remote enough not to be problematic.
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There has been concern among some that as the vaccines are administered, the United States and other wealthy nations will store up reserves for themselves, without sending the vaccine to poor countries without the resources to develop one themselves.
“In the face of a challenge that knows no borders, we cannot erect walls. All of us are in the same boat,” Pope Francis said,” adding, “Every other person is my brother or my sister. In everyone, I see reflected the face of God, and in those who suffer, I see the Lord pleading for my help. I see him in the sick, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized, the migrant and the refugee.”
Speaking during his annual address for the Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing, which goes out to the city of Rome and to the world, the pope said the ecological and economic crises caused by the pandemic, as well as the resulting “social imbalances,” should be a reminder of the importance of recognizing one another “as brothers and sisters.”
“God has made this fraternal unity possible, by giving us his Son Jesus,” he said, adding, “The fraternity he offers us has nothing to do with fine words, abstract ideals or vague sentiments,” but is based on a genuine love that allows people to encounter others who are “different from myself,” whether these differences be ethnic, religious, or political.
“For all their differences, they are still my brothers and sisters. The same thing is true of relationships between peoples and nations,” he said, and prayed that Christmas would inspire generous support of those who are vulnerable, sick, unemployed, or who are experiencing general hardship amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus.
He then offered a special prayer for women who “have suffered domestic violence during these months of lockdown.”
Traditionally given from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, this year the pope’s Urbi et Orbi blessing, traditionally only given at Christmas and Easter, or in extraordinary circumstances, was livestreamed from the Vatican’s apostolic palace to prevent crowds.
Italy is currently in the midst of a nationwide lockdown for the holidays, with strict prohibitions on movement and leaving one’s home extending from Dec. 24-Jan. 6, apart from a few days in between.
In his address, usually a lengthy plea for an end to conflicts raging in the world, Pope Francis prayed for both peace and healing in countries experiencing poverty, war or violence throughout the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
On Christmas Eve, he penned two letters, one to the people of Lebanon offering words of comfort and urging government officials to end the nation’s ongoing meltdown, and one to the leaders of South Sudan, encouraging them to take further steps in their efforts for peace.
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Speaking of Lebanon in his Dec. 25 speech, Francis prayed that light of Christmas would “offer guidance and encouragement to the Lebanese people, so that, with the support of the international community, they may not lose hope amid the difficulties they currently face.”
“May the Prince of Peace help the country’s leaders to lay aside partial interests and commit themselves with seriousness, honesty and transparency to enabling Lebanon to undertake a process of reform and to persevere in its vocation of freedom and peaceful coexistence,” he said.
He also prayed for Israel and Palestine, asking that the celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem would “grant the gift of fraternity to the land that witnessed his birth.”
“May Israelis and Palestinians regain mutual trust and seek a just and lasting peace through a direct dialogue capable of ending violence and overcoming endemic grievances, and thus bear witness before the world to the beauty of fraternity,” he said.
Francis then prayed for an end to the war in Ukraine and to the violence ravaging several countries throughout Africa, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon, and South Sudan.
Turning to Latin America, which has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the pope said COVID-19 has exacerbated the continent’s “many sufferings, frequently aggravated by the effects of corruption and drug trafficking.”
He gave a particular nod to Venezuela and Chile, and also asked God to protect all those suffering from natural disasters such as flooding in Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam and the Philippines.
Offering a special prayer for Rohingya Muslims, for whom he has often advocated and prayed, Francis asked that Jesus, “who was born poor among the poor,” would bring them “hope amid their sufferings.”
Pope Francis closed his address stressing that in the face of global conflict and the challenges brought by the pandemic, “To become resigned to violence and injustice would be to reject the joy and hope of Christmas.”
“On this festive day, I think in a special way of all those who refuse to let themselves be overcome by adversity, but instead work to bring hope, comfort and help to those who suffer and those who are alone,” he said, and offered a special prayer for families unable to be together during the holidays because of COVID-19.
“May Christmas be an opportunity for all of us to rediscover the family as a cradle of life and faith, a place of acceptance and love, dialogue, forgiveness, fraternal solidarity and shared joy, a source of peace for all humanity,” he said.
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