A pope on the side of the people

A pope on the side of the people

With his Christmas message, Francis took another step in his mission to place mercy above morality In what could be seen as a break with tradition, the pope decided this Christmas to target his message directly at the common people.

Those gathered at the Vatican heard the usual homilies about peace on Earth. But this year Pope Francis made clear that these words must carry real power for change.

Speaking to an estimated crowd of 150,000 in St Peter's Square, Francis highlighted the conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Holy Land.

True peace, he said, is not a lovely facade that conceals conflict and division or a balance of opposing forces.

He asked Jesus to inspire peace in the hearts of the various warring factions.

"Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue."

Pope Francis spoke as a Christian, but also as a human being, touching upon a universal theme.

This was an appeal to all humanity, and its subject matter is something to which each and every one of us can relate.

"Lord of heaven and earth," he prayed, "look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity."

He asked his followers to pray for an end to the violence in Syria and Central Africa so that humanitarian aid could get to the people. He spoke of the need for social harmony in South Sudan, a young nation where tensions have pitted communities and political factions against one another.

He prayed for the Filipinos who lost family members and homes to Typhoon Haiyan and urged the Israelis and the Palestinians to find peace in the Holy Land.

For those, such as homosexuals, stung by the Church's overbearing attitudes over the past decades, Francis is a breath of fresh air. He washes and kisses the feet of convicts, stoops to embrace the disfigured, continually reaches out to the poor and attacks corrupt economic systems that erode ordinary people's wellbeing.

Though he has not changed Catholic doctrine in any fundamental way, he has managed to alter the course of the debate on various issues.

Placing mercy above morality has won him a great deal of praise from various quarters.

Time magazine has named him person of the year.

"Who am I to judge them?" said Francis, when asked about gay clergymen.

He also reached out to non-believers and people of other faiths.

Whether one is a Christian or not, one cannot ignore the fact that the Catholic Church, with more than 1.2 billion followers, has a strong influence in global affairs. And so when its head speaks out, the world listens.

Francis has been pontiff for just nine months, but as pope he has already offered plenty of inspiration to many people.

Let's hope he stays the course and continues to shine a light on issues like poverty and human misery, which many of our leaders seem all too willing to overlook.

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