Pope Francis on Thursday denounced discrimination against Christians, including in countries where religious freedom is guaranteed by law.
The 77-year-old Argentinian asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for "Christians who are unjustly accused and are subjected to every type of violence."
Francis, celebrating his first Christmas season as pope, said "limitations and discrimination" against Christians are taking place not only in countries that do not grant full religious freedom but also where "on paper, freedom and human rights are protected."
"This injustice should be denounced and eliminated," he said.
His denunciation of discrimination suffered by Christians came a day after three Christmas Day bombings targeted Christians in Iraq.
Francis did not name any countries, but the Vatican has long urged Saudi Arabia, the site of Islam's holiest places, to lift a ban on Christians worshiping in public.
This year there have been a number of incidents of intolerance and attacks against minority Christians in Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, and other countries where their rights are guaranteed by law.
Francis, departing from his prepared text, said he was sure that Christians suffering from either discrimination or violence were "more numerous today than in the early times of the Church."
(Editing by Louise Ireland)