VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis lit a candle decorated with the faces of Syrian children suffering from war from his balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square on Sunday, launching a global campaign calling for peace in the country "martyred by a war that has lasted for nearly eight years."

Francis told believers gathered in St. Peter's Square on the first Sunday of the Advent season leading up to Christmas that "Advent is a time of hope."

Lifting the candle to the window, Francis prayed that "These flames, and many flames of hope, disperse the darkness of war."

"Let's pray and help the Christians to remain in Syria and the Middle East as witnesses of mercy, of forgiveness and of reconciliation. May the flames of hope also reach those who are enduring conflict and war in these days in other parts of the world, near and far," the pope said. He urged those who foment war and make arms for conflicts to have a change of heart.

The lighting of the candle with the images of some 40 Syrian children, mostly from Aleppo, launched a global campaign for Syria, which the organization Aid to the Church in Need said involved over 50,000 children of different religions from war-torn Syrian cities.