The pope said that to pray seriously one must love one's neighbors, no matter what errors they have made.
"It can be said: in a spirit of hatred one cannot pray; in a spirit of indifference one cannot pray. Prayer is only given in a spirit of love. Those who do not love pretend to pray, or they think they are praying, but they do not pray, because they lack the very spirit that is love."
He continued: "When a believer, moved by the Holy Spirit, prays for sinners, no selection is made, no judgment or condemnation is uttered: they pray for everyone. And they pray for themselves. At that moment they know they are not that different from those for whom they pray: they feel they are a sinner among sinners and they pray for everyone."
The pope highlighted the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, recorded in Luke 18:9-14, in which Jesus contrasts the prayer of a self-satisfied Pharisee with that of a humble tax collector.
"The lesson of the parable of the Pharisee and the publican is always alive and current: we are not better than anyone, we are all brothers and sisters who bear fragility, suffering and being sinners in common," he said.
The pope observed that those who intercede for others are largely unknown to the world, but not to God, and they help to sustain the world.
"The Church, in all of her members, has the mission of practicing the prayer of intercession. This is especially so for those who exercise roles of responsibility: parents, teachers, ordained ministers, superiors of communities…. Like Abraham and Moses, they must at times 'defend' the persons entrusted to them before God," he said.
"In reality, we are talking about protecting them with God's eyes and heart, with His same invincible compassion and tenderness. Praying with tenderness for others."
He concluded: "Brothers and sisters, we are all leaves on the same tree: each one that falls reminds us of the great piety that must be nourished in prayer, for one another. Let us pray for one another: it will do us good and do good to all."
In his greetings to Polish-speaking Catholics, the pope noted that the Novena to the Child Jesus begins on Dec. 16, nine days before Christmas.
He said: "In your Advent journey this year, in a special way, may St. Joseph accompany you. May the Divine Child, who saw in him the tenderness of God, fill your hearts, especially in these difficult times, with the certainty that our Heavenly Father is a God of tenderness, who is good to all and His mercy extends over all His children. I bless you from my heart."
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Addressing Italian-speakers, the pope reflected on the difficulties of celebrating Christmas amid coronavirus restrictions.
"I would like to exhort everyone to 'hasten the step' towards Christmas, the real one, that is, the birth of Jesus Christ," he said.
"This year restrictions and inconveniences await us; but let us think of the Christmas of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph: it was not all rosy! How many difficulties they had! How many worries! Yet faith, hope and love guided and sustained them."
"May it be the same for us! May this difficulty also help us to purify a little our way of experiencing Christmas, of celebrating it, moving away from consumerism: may it be more religious, more authentic, more true."