Violence of any kind "is always fueled by weapons," he said, stressing that "you cannot speak of peace while you are secretly racing to stockpile new arms. This is a most serious responsibility weighing on the conscience of nations, especially the most powerful."
Pointing to the devastation that ensued in the aftermath of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the pope urged the world not to forget the destructive potential of an unbridled pursuit of power and profit.
"Let us not turn the Middle East, where the Word of peace sprang up, into dark stretches of silence. Let us have enough of stubborn opposition," he said, and condemned the "thirst for profit that surreptitiously exploits oil and gas fields without regard for our common home, with no scruples about the fact that energy market now dictates the law of coexistence among peoples!"
The pope also called for a "common citizenship" among all people in the Middle East, where Christians and other minorities are often viewed as second-class citizens, and are subject to persecution and discrimination.
Turning to Jerusalem, an inter-religious hub sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, Francis said he was "anguished" to think about the ongoing tensions in the area, and said the status quo of the city "demands to be respected, as decided by the international community and repeatedly requested by the Christian communities of the Holy Land."
"Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians, firmly willed and promoted by the international community, will be able to lead to a stable and lasting peace, and guarantee the coexistence of two states for two peoples," he said.
Noting the high number of children who have died in armed conflicts, Pope Francis said hope for the Middle East "has the face of children," and lamented the "appalling" number of children who have either died, or witnessed death in their families.
"This is the death of hope," he said, noting that "all too many children have spent most of their lives looking at rubble instead of schools, hearing the deafening explosion of bombs rather than the happy din of playgrounds."
"May humanity listen – this is my plea – to the cry of children," he said, because "only by wiping away their tears will the world recover its dignity."
Francis closed his speech voicing hope that a longing for peace would be stronger than the "dark cloud" of conflict that has overshadowed the region, and prayed that the Middle East would not longer be an "ark of war," but an "ark of peace" which is welcoming to people from all backgrounds and beliefs.
"Beloved Middle East, may you see dispelled the darkness of war, power, violence, fanaticism, unfair gains, exploitation, poverty, inequality and lack of respect for rights," he said, and prayed that justice would "dwell within your borders, and may God's blessing come to rest upon you."
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