Pope Francis is urging Mideast Christians to remain in the land of Christ's birth, despite the "previously unimaginable" attacks against them by Muslim extremists.

In a Christmas greeting released Tuesday, Francis said the mere presence of the tiny Christian community in the Middle East is more important than any service the church can provide there.

He said he hopes to visit in person, but that for now he wants to write to provide words of comfort and solidarity.

The pope condemned trafficking in weapons and demanded that Muslim religious leaders clearly condemn attacks against religious minorities and using religion to justify them.

He said: "May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you!"