Vatican Christmas

Pope Francis is due to travel to Mexico Feb. 12-18. He'll stop in Cuba on the way and meet with Patriarch Kirill on Feb. 12 at the Havana airport. (The Associated Press)

Pope Francis urged the world in his Christmas message today to unite to end atrocities by militants that he said were causing immense suffering in many countries.

Security was tight at the Vatican in Rome as Francis, marking the third Christmas since his election in 2013, read his traditional 
Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) address from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

Tens of thousands of people had to have their bags checked as they entered the Vatican area and then go through 
airport-style screening if they wanted to enter St. Peter's Square.

Counter-terrorist police with machine-guns discreetly patrolled the area in unmarked vans with dark windows.

After calling for an end to the civil wars in Syria and Libya, the Pope said: "May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples."

'May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer 
violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade.'

- Pope Francis

He was clearly referring to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants who have carried out numerous attacks in those countries and destroyed many cultural heritage sites. In October, ISIS militants blew up the Arch of Triumph, a jewel in the exquisite collection of ruins in the Syrian oasis city of Palmyra.

Condemns recent attacks    

The pontiff condemned recent "brutal acts of terrorism," including the Nov. 13 attacks by that killed 130 people in Paris, and the downing of a Russian plane over Egypt's Sinai peninsula that killed 224 people on Oct. 31. Both were claimed by ISIS.

"Only God's mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst," he said. "The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations."

The Pope also praised countries and individuals who have taken in refugees fleeing "inhuman conditions," saying their generosity had helped the newcomers "build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them."

In Canada, with the Liberal government aiming to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of February, Immigration Minister John McCallum said earlier this week that more than 10,000 Syrian refugees will have passed medical exams and other requirements to be certified as permanent residents of Canada by the end of the year. However, not all may be on Canadian soil by year's end, due to factors beyond the government's control, including the weather and refugees wanting to say goodbye to friends and families.

The Pope's Christmas message also called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the area where Jesus was born.

"Where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war. Yet precisely where the incarnate Son of God came into the world, tensions and violence persist, and peace remains a gift to be implored and built," he said.

He asked God to bring consolation and strength to Christians who are being persecuted around the world and called for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and Ukraine.

Francis said the human dignity of far too many people around the world was trampled on, including that of refugees and 

"Even today great numbers of men and women are deprived of their human dignity and, like the child Jesus, suffer cold, 
poverty and rejection," he said.

"May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer 
violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade." 

With files from CBC, The Associated Press