Pope Francis on Dec. 25 urged the world to let the light of Christmas pierce the "darkness in human hearts" that leads to religious persecution, social injustice, armed conflicts and fear of migrants.

In his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) Christmas Day message, Francis, the 83-year-old pope called for peace in the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Venezuela, Ukraine and several African countries caught up in conflicts. But the common thread of his address to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square and millions watching or listening around the world was that change starts in the hearts of individuals.

Francis singled out persecution of Christians by extremist groups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, asking God to console those who suffer for their faith. On Dec. 1, at least 14 people were shot dead in an attack on a church in eastern Burkina Faso, where an Islamist insurgency has ignited ethnic and religious tensions.

Francis, who has been scorned by populist politicians because of his defence of refugees and migrants, dedicated a section of his address to their plight.

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