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Pope pleads for migrants, Trump attacked in Bethlehem

Pope Francis in his Christmas eve mass Sunday urged the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics not to ignore the plight of migrants who are “driven from their land” because of leaders willing to shed “innocent blood”.

“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” the Argentine pontiff, himself the grandson of Italian migrants, told worshippers in Saint Peter’s Basilica

“We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”

Many engulfed in the ongoing migration crisis were forced to flee from leaders “who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood”, said the 81-year-old, who will give his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas address on Monday.

The pontiff’s plea for “hope” came as fresh tensions simmered in the West Bank following President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The announcement by Trump on December 6 unleashed demonstrators and clashes, including in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Christians marked the birth of Jesus at a midnight mass.

Celebrating mass in the ancient town, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, used his homily to lambast the wars that “the Herods of today fight every day to become greater, to occupy more space”.

He urged “Christians of the Holy Land, who are worried, and perhaps afraid by the reduction of our numbers, the inadequacy of our means, the insecurity that characterises our daily life,” to have courage in the troubled region.

Criticising Trump’s announcement, Pizzaballa insisted “Jerusalem is a city of peace, there is not peace if someone is excluded. Jerusalem should include, not exclude,” stressing the principle that Jerusalem is a city for both peoples and the three Abrahamic faiths.

“Jerusalem is our mother,” he said, and if one of her children “is missing the mother cannot be at peace, so we have to pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” the archbishop said in his homily in the presence of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has sparked almost daily protests in the Palestinian territories and put a damper on Christmas festivities.

Palestinian scouts played drums and bagpipes at celebrations in Bethlehem, but many tourists stayed away this year.

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