Pope Francis makes Christmas call to Iraqi refugees

Pope Francis has spoken by telephone to Iraqi refugees in a camp near Irbil before celebrating Christmas Eve Mass. 

The Pope urged the refugees - forced to flee their homes by the militant group Islamic State - to "persevere", and said he was close to them in his heart. 

At a Christmas Eve midnight Mass at St Peter's Basilica, the Pope called on believers to show more empathy towards family and friends. 

On Christmas Day, the Pope will deliver his "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas address. 

The call to refugees at a camp in Ankawa was made by satellite phone and broadcast live on Italian TV. 

"Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart," he told them, saying he was thinking particularly of children and the elderly. 

"Innocent children, children who have died, exploited children... I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross." 

He told them they were like Jesus, forced to flee because there was no room for them. 

"I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas," he said. 

Advances in Iraq by Islamic State have forced tens of thousands of Christians and people from other religious minorities to flee to Kurdish controlled areas. 

Later in his homily during Christmas Eve Mass, the Pope said the world needed more tenderness and warmth. "The question put to us simply by the infant's presence is: 'Do I allow God to love me?'" he said. 

"Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us?"

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