Pope Francis has again appealed for an end to the brutal fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo, calling war a "pile-up of tyrannies and lies" and asking people to say "no to destruction, yes to peace."
At the end of his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square Sunday, the pontiff said: "Every day I am close, most of all in prayer, to the people of Aleppo."
"We must not forget that Aleppo is a city; that there are people there: families, children, the elderly, the sick," the pope continued. "Unfortunately, we are now accustomed to war, to destruction, but we must not forget that Syria is a country full of history, of culture, of faith."
"We cannot accept that this will be lost to war, which is a pile-up of tyrannies and lies," said Francis. "I appeal for the commitment of all to make a choice of civility: no to destruction, yes to peace; yes to the people of Aleppo and Syria."
Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, has been a scene of conflict between the Syrian government and rebel forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad since 2012. The city had been divided in two by the opposing groups since mid-2012, but in recent weeks the Syrian government has recaptured much of the city after brutal fighting.
Francis also expressed closeness on Sunday to those who have experienced terrorist attacks in different parts of the world this week, particularly victims of a bombing in Cairo at the city's Coptic cathedral Sunday morning. Early reports said the blast killed at least 25 people.
The pontiff said he wanted to express a "particular closeness" to the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II.
Before praying the Angelus prayer Sunday, Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading, in which Jesus is approached by followers of John the Baptist and asked if he is the savior John had been preaching about.
Jesus replies: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised."
"They are not words; they are facts that demonstrate how salvation, brought by Jesus, grabs hold of a human being and regenerates him or her," said the pontiff.
"God entered into history to liberate us from the slavery of sin; put his tent in our midst to share our existence, to heal our sores, to bandage our wounds and to give us new life," said the pope.
Noting that the coming of Christmas is marked by the hanging of lights both in and outside the home, Francis said: "These external signs invite us to welcome the Lord, who always comes and knocks on our door; they invite us to recognize his steps among our brothers and sisters that walk next to us, especially the weakest and most in need."
"Today we are invited to have joy for the imminent coming of our redeemer," said the pontiff. "And we are called to share this joy with others, giving comfort and hope to the poor, to the sick, to people alone and unhappy."
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]