'I hope for a better world': Pope Francis calls for peace for Syria and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict in Christmas Day speech

Pontiff spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to some 70,000 cheering tourists, pilgrims and Romans in the square below

In his first Christmas mass and message since his election, Pope Francis reached out to non-believers, to the poor and the marginalised and pleaded for what he called a “home-made” peace.

Pope Francis departed from the prepared text of his Christmas message to the faithful this morning to stress once again the messages of humility and inclusiveness that have characterised the first nine months of his leadership of the Roman  Catholic church.

“I invite even non-believers to desire peace… Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace,” he said.

“True peace” was not something abstract, he said, not a “balance of opposing forces, nor a “lovely façade”. Peace was something to be earned and strived for by both believers and non-believers in everyday life.

“Peace is a daily commitment. It is a home-made peace,” said Pope Francis, addressing a crowd of 70,000 people in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican from the central balcony of St Peter’s basilica. The message of Christmas, and the birth of Jesus, was directed, he said, at “every man or woman who keeps watch through the night, who hopes for a better world, who cares for others while humbly seeking to do his or her duty.”

Pope Francis called specifically for a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq Central Africa and South Sudan. He urged a “favourable outcome” to peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Pope also called for a “dignified life” for immigrants and prayed that catastrophes like the shipwreck off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa which killed hundreds of people should never happen again.

In the first Christmas mass of his pontificate on Christmas Eve, the Pope went out of his way to stress the humble beginnings of Jesus Christ and those who had surrounded him at his birth. Since his election in March, Pope Francis has attempted to roll back the pomp and arrogance of the Vatican hierarchy and administration.

The first people to receive the news of the birth of Jesus, he pointed out, were shepherds who were regarded as the the “lowest”, most “marginalised”, people in society 2,000 years ago. In a break with tradition, the 77 years old pope carried a statue in the procession through the basilica  himself. In the past, it has been entrusted to a junior priest.