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Pope Francis Uses Christmas Message To Bring Up World Issues


And we're going to turn now to the Vatican. Pope Francis appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica today to deliver a Christmas Day message to Rome and to the world. Now, this pope has traditionally used his messages to focus on conflicts that are afflicting the world today.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on the line with us from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.


KING: So the pope spoke yesterday, too. He spoke on Christmas Eve. And he talked about very pressing issues. He talked about war and refugees and migration, poor people. What did he say in the message today? What were some of the differences?

POGGIOLI: He talked about many of exactly those same themes, weaving the story of the Nativity with the many crises afflicting the world.


POPE POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: He said, "today, as the winds of war blowing in our world and an outdated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline, Christmas invites us to recognize Jesus in the faces of the little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, there is no place in the inn." He went on to say that we see Jesus in the children suffering from growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, in the faces of Syrian children marked by war and those of Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, many other African nations.

He referred to the children of unemployed parents, of those forced to work and those enrolled as soldiers, and the many minors traveling alone who are an easy target for human traffickers. And the pope made a very clear call for a negotiated two-state solution to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And I just want to add that I just got an email from the Vatican that says 50,000 people were in the square to listen to the pope.

KING: My goodness. This call for a negotiated end or a negotiated two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, does this come as a surprise at all?

POGGIOLI: Oh, not at all.

KING: Not at all.

POGGIOLI: This is certainly - this has been a longstanding Vatican position. And this is the second time the - Pope Francis has spoken out quite forcefully on this issue since President Trump made his announcement about the move - moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

KING: Francis has been pope for almost five years now. He's seen as a big player on the international stage. He's seen as a powerful man. What have been the highlights of his papacy in 2017?

POGGIOLI: Well, this year, he traveled to Egypt, to Portugal, to Colombia and Myanmar and Bangladesh. The focus was always on interfaith relations with Islam and with Buddhism, the persecution of Christians in some countries, and his personal desire to be close to Catholics where they are small communities in predominantly non-Christian countries. He - you know, he's often described the current world situation as a third world war being fought piecemeal.

And this year he focused a lot on the threat of nuclear weapons. Last month, the Vatican held a major conference urging nuclear disarmament. And during his return flight from Asia earlier this month, the pope did not directly mention tensions between North Korea and the U.S., but he spoke about what he called the irrationality in the world today. He warned that human knowledge and progress has reached the point where man has the capacity to blast humanity back to the Stone Age.

KING: Some really strong words there. You know, this was a pope who came in with a mandate to really reform the Vatican's bureaucracy, to make its very complicated financial systems more transparent. Has he made any progress along those lines?

POGGIOLI: Well, he's made some progress. He has streamlined many of the Vatican departments. There is a little bit more transparency in the Vatican's finances, not complete. It had a very, very bad reputation, very shady. Probably the most significant development, however, in the church this year has been a much more overt opposition to Pope Francis from conservatives, conservative Catholics. They're very much opposed to his cautious opening to communion for divorced and civilly married Catholics.

In September, a group of theologians wrote a letter that - they went so far as to accuse him of heresy. Now, he has more or less ignored the charges. He has made some personnel changes. He got rid of the head of the very powerful congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Muller, and - who was increasingly associated with his opposition to the controversial communion story. But he has more or less ignored them.

What's much more worrisome for Francis is more the grumbling within the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, towards his governing methods and his open criticism of the Curia. So as he goes into 2018, perhaps he has - the most - the biggest issue for him will be the growing resistance within his own ranks.

KING: All right, well, we'll be keeping an eye on that with your help. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Sylvia, thank you so much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you.


Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.

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