Pope Francis has condemned the "brutal persecution" of minorities by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and said the joy of Christmas was marred by the suffering of children in the Middle East and around the world.

"I ask him, the saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution," said Francis on Thursday in his Christmas message.

Later he departed from his text and spoke emotionally of "children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence".

"I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born," he said, without elaborating.

Again without elaborating, he spoke of "contemporary Herods," with blood on their hands, referring to the Biblical king who ordered children to be killed because he saw Jesus as a threat to his power.

He also spoke of "infants killed in the womb" condemning abortion as a product of "a culture that does not love life".

Speaking of the plight of refugees he asked that "indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity".

He appealed for an end to conflicts in African countries, urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, condemned the attack by Taliban fighters that killed more than 130 students in Pakistan last week, and thanked those helping the victims of the Ebola epidemic.

Source: Reuters