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“So many people, so many youths suffer because of war!” This was Pope Francis’ message to young people from the Italian Catholic Action in a meeting at the Vatican on December 15, 2023. In his speech, which he handed out to the participants, he lamented the children who have died in Gaza, Ukraine, and Yemen.
As has often been the case since his lung inflammation at the end of November, Pope Francis did not wish to read out his speech. Instead he gave the young members of Catholic Action a written version of his message as he thanked them for coming and encouraged them in their work.
“Do you know how many children have died in Gaza in this latest war? More than 3,000,” the Pope wrote in his speech, as he reminded his readers that Christmas and the birth of Baby Jesus teaches us to love one another. “It is unbelievable, but it is reality. And in Ukraine it’s more than 500, and in Yemen, in years of war, it’s thousands.”
UNICEF, the United Nations agency dedicated to children, reported that as of December 6, 17,177 people – including more than 5,350 children – have died in Gaza. “Their memory invites us in turn to be lights for the world, to touch the hearts of so many people, especially those who can stop the whirlwind of violence,” he explained.
“Love God and love one another: only in this way will the world find the light and peace it needs, as the angels sang in Bethlehem (cf. Lk 2:14),” he added. “To love God and others: in the family, in the parish, at school and along the roads you travel every day, to help everyone believe that it is still possible to change course, choose life, and return to hope.”
“In Christmas, God shows us His love and invites us to love: Him, others, and creation. Let us respond to his invitation by uniting, with our friendship and tenderness, heaven and earth in one big embrace!”
Protecting children in conflict
The protection of children in areas of war is a major area of work for the diplomatic instruments of the Holy See. Particularly in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Vatican diplomacy is working to help repatriate Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia. The Holy See’s initiatives, spearheaded by Cardinal Mario Zuppi, have led, for example, to an investigation of dozens of children, and the repatriation of a Ukrainian teenager, Bogdan Yermokhin.