Pope Francis has used his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas Day address to call for a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Speaking on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the pontiff said negotiations were crucial in bringing an end to conflict between Israel and Palestine, with tensions having been stoked by Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the former’s capital.
Tens of thousands gathered to hear the speech, which marked the second time the Pope had spoken out against Mr Trump’s approach. He previously called for the city’s “status quo” to be respected.
Another apparent Christmas Day jibe towards the US President came from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who used his annual sermon at Canterbury Cathedral to speak out against “populist leaders that deceive” their people.
“The nature of those who have power is to seek to hold on to it,” the Most Rev Welby said.
“In 2017 we have seen around the world tyrannical leaders that enslave their peoples, populist leaders that deceive them, corrupt leaders that rob them, even simply democratic, well-intentioned leaders of many parties and countries who are normal, fallible human beings.”
Mr Trump was condemned by the Archbishop last month for sharing anti-Muslim videos from far-right group Britain First, and he has been widely criticised in recent weeks for his decision on Jerusalem.
The Pope’s latest commentary on the issue came days after more than 120 countries backed a United Nations resolution urging the US to reverse it.
A Security Council resolution expressing “deep regret at recent decisions” concerning Jerusalem’s status had previously been vetoed by the US even though the other 14 members – including Britain – voted in favour.
The Pope said: “Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Francis, celebrating the fifth Christmas of his pontificate, used the story of the birth of Jesus to encourage people to be more accepting of refugees forced to flee their homes in pursuit of a better life.
And while he stopped short of referring to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims by name – which he also avoided during his recent visit to Myanmar – he called on the international community to “ensure the dignity of the minority groups in the region is adequately protected”.
“Jesus knows well the pain of not knowing be welcome and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one’s head,” he continued.
“May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem. May we commit ourselves with the help of his grace to making our world more human and more worthy for the children of today and the future.”
The Pope’s use of the Christmas story to highlight the plight of refugees was also echoed by Archbishop Welby.
“We are drawn to stories of freedom and purpose,” he said.
“In Star Wars an abandoned orphan on a desert planet turns into a knight leading the struggle for freedom. Platform nine and three quarters takes Harry Potter into a world of magic and purpose.
“Not so in the gospel stories, even those of Christmas. Yes, the shepherds see angels. Yes, Mary and Joseph have dreams and are chosen as special people.
“Yet after the moments of miracles life goes on almost as before – the shepherds return to their sheep, Joseph settles back as a carpenter, Mary raises children. They flee as refugees, like over 60 million people today.
“Yet their story is the beginning of ours, it is an invitation to lives of freedom, found through God’s freely offered love.”