The Pope today spoke out for the millions of people being persecuted for their faith and condemned the “monstrous evil” in our midst.

Delivering his annual “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas Day address from the Vatican in St Peter’s Square, Rome, the Pope said Christmas was a “day of light” which dispels the darkness. 

“Let us allow tears of repentance to fill our eyes and cleanse our hearts,” he said. “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.”

Where peace is born there is no longer room for hatred and for war, he said, praying in particular that the agreement reached in the United Nations may succeed in halting as quickly as possible the clash of arms in Syria.

Open Doors reports that since the start of the civil war in 2011, more than 700,000 Christians have left Syria. Islamic State have claimed parts of the country for their “caliphate” and Christians are frequently attacked, abducted and killed.

“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,” the Pope said.

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

The pontiff condemned recent “brutal acts of terrorism,” including the November 13 attacks by Islamist militants that killed 130 people in Paris, and the downing of a Russian plane over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula that killed 224 people on October 31. Both were claimed by Islamic State.

The Pope spoke up for all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, noting that all those travelling in inhumane conditions are often at risk of their lives.

“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,” he said.