Pope Benedict XVI Expresses Concern for Iraqi Refugees

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday expressed concern about the plight of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled their homeland to Syria and called on aid organizations to step up efforts to help them.

"My thought goes today to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria who were forced to leave their country because of the dramatic situation" there, Benedict told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square.

He said a Syrian Catholic charity group was already helping them, but that he wanted to appeal to "the sensibilities of the private sector, of international organizations and governments" to make "further efforts to help meet their more urgent needs."

Benedict said he was praying to the Lord "so that these brothers and sisters may be comforted by God and by the new generosity of the hearts of so many."

The pope also expressed worry that people in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere where there are wars will not know the joy the Christmas brings.

"The joy that the (Christmas) liturgy awakens in the hearts of Christians is not reserved only for them" but is "destined for all of humanity, in a special way the poorest, in this case, those most lacking in joy," Benedict said from his window overlooking the square, which was made festive with a towering Christmas tree.

"Let us think of our brothers and sisters who, especially in the Middle East, in some areas of Africa and in other parts of the world, are living through the drama of war. What joy can they experience?" the pope said. "What will their Christmas be like?"

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