Pope Francis prays for Aleppo, victims of recent terrorist attacks

Pilgrim holds up statue of baby Jesus during the Angelus in St Peters Square Dec 11 2016 Photo Daniel Ibanez CNA Pilgrim holds up statue of baby Jesus during the Angelus in St. Peter's Square Dec. 11, 2016. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

During the Angelus for the third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday, Pope Francis made a special appeal for prayers for the people of Aleppo and Syria, and for all those affected by the recent terrorist attacks which have taken place in places such as Turkey and Egypt.

We must not forget that cities such as Aleppo are made up of people: "families, children, elderly, sick people," he said Dec. 11. "Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to war, to destruction, but we must not forget that Syria is a country full of history, culture and faith."

"We cannot accept that this is denied by the war, which is an accumulation of injustices and falsehoods. I appeal to the commitment of all, because they face a choice of civilization: no to destruction, yes to peace, yes to the people of Aleppo and Syria," he stated after the Angelus in St. Peter's square.

Also praying for the victims of recent terrorist attacks, the Pope said that violence only "sows death and destruction." He expressed a special closeness to Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and his community.

A bomb attack outside the Coptic cathedral in Cairo Sunday morning killed at least 25 people and injured dozens more. The night before in Istanbul, Turkey, two bombings outside a soccer stadium killed 38 people and wounded another 155, BBC News reports.

A tradition in Rome for the third Sunday of Advent, children and young people receive a special blessing from the Pope alongside the blessing of statues of Baby Jesus to be placed in Nativity scenes.

"Today the first greeting is for children and young people of Rome who have come for the traditional blessing of the 'Baby Jesus,'" the Pope said. "Dear children, when you pray in front of your Nativity with your parents, ask the Child Jesus to help us all to love God and neighbor."

The third Sunday of Advent, Francis said, is characterized by the invitation of St. Paul to "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!" It is a joy that is not "superficial" or "purely emotional," but "real."

"It is a pleasure that touches the depths of our being, while we await Jesus who has already come to bring salvation to the world, the promised Messiah, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary," he stated.

And the announcement of salvation changes everything: "the desert blooms, consolation and joy pervade hearts," Pope Francis said. "The salvation brought by Jesus seizes the whole human being and regenerates him."

"He has pitched his tent among us to share our lives, heal our sores, bind up our wounds and give us new life. Joy is the fruit of this action of salvation and God's love."

We are called to join in with this feeling of exultation permeating the liturgy for Gaudete Sunday, Francis said. As Christmas approaches, the signs "are evident on our streets and in our homes."

"These external signs" of Christmas, Pope Francis continued, "invite us to welcome the Lord who always comes and knocks on our door," and to also recognize Jesus in the poor and needy we encounter.

"Today we are invited to rejoice in the imminent coming of our Redeemer; and we are called to share this joy with others, giving comfort and hope to the poor, the sick, the lonely and the unhappy."

As he wrapped up his greetings after the Angelus, the Pope spoke about the beatification of Mario Borzaga, a priest of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Paul Thoj Xyooj, a lay catechist, and 14 comrades who were all killed "in hatred of the faith."

Their beatification took place Dec. 11 in Laos, a country in Southeast Asia. "Their heroic fidelity to Christ," Francis expressed, "can be of encouragement and example to missionaries, especially catechists, who in mission lands play a valuable and irreplaceable apostolic work, for which the entire Church is grateful."

Asking for a round of applause from the pilgrims in the square, the Pope noted the hard work catechists do, saying it's a "beautiful thing."

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Referring to a group of young people in the square leading songs for the occasion of the blessing of the Baby Jesus, before concluding his Angelus address, the Pope said "we want to hear one of your songs!"

"Sing!" he said with a smile.

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