VATICAN CITY (AP) — The pope has lit a candle decorated with the faces of Syrian children suffering from war as part of a global campaign calling for peace in the Middle Eastern country.

The pope told believers gathered in St. Peter's Square on the first Sunday of the Advent season leading up to Christmas that the season "is a time of hope." The pontiff called for a halt to the civil war in Syria, which has been underway for nearly eight years.

Lifting the candle to the window, the pope urged that "these flames of hope disperse the darkness of war."

The lighting launched a global campaign for Syria, which the organization Aid to the Church in Need said involved over 50,000 children from war-torn Syrian cities.

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