It may have been the most wonderful time of the year, but the head of the Roman Catholic Church’s annual Urbi et Orbi [To the City and the World] message was a heartfelt and sobering call for peace and an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As over 70,000 congregants flocked to Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican for Christmas Day Mass and the traditional papal Christmas message, Pope Francis lamented that the path of peace has been blocked by numerous socio-economic and political factors, including rampant materialism, lust for power, pride, hypocrisy, and dishonesty – all of which had a part to play in the suffering affecting not only Ukraine, but also conflict-riddled nations like Iran, Myanmar, and Yemen, as well as the Sahel region in Africa.

According to the Pope, humanity must acknowledge the fact that the specter of war continues to loom over the world even as the Prince of Peace is born. He added that, if we are to truly celebrate the spirit of Christmas even after the actual holiday, humanity should contemplate the face of the child born in Bethlehem and, in that face, see the faces of children around the world who yearn for peace.

Grim Realities at a Joyous Time

Despite his own physical infirmities which have, in recent months, made him use a wheelchair to perform many of his duties, Pope Francis thought more of how the faithful could help others in their time of need.

Indeed, the Pope urged the faithful to pray for millions of Ukrainians who were left without both power and heating on Christmas Day as Russian forces attacked the country’s energy infrastructure days before. He also asked them to remember the millions of displaced Ukrainians now living as refugees in different parts of the world or living in hiding within their own country since February 2022.

Pope Francis expressed his hopes that God would enlighten those with the power to put an end to the violence and bring about a welcome – and lasting – peace.

Ukraine wasn’t the only nation that merited a mention in the Pope’s Christmas address. He also pointed out current conditions in Haiti where almost 100,000 have fled the capital due to gang-related violence, decrying those who would allow children to go hungry while valuable resources are spent on weapons and vendettas against one’s enemies.

The Pope also called out the way the conflict in the Balkans has put whole nations at the risk of famine, citing how Russian blockades prevented the shipment of grain and corn from Ukraine to different parts of the world, an issue that the United Nations is currently trying to address.