Pope appeals for peace in Gaza and Ukraine as he presides over Easter Mass

Pope Francis rallied from a winter-long bout of respiratory problems to lead some 60,000 people in Easter celebrations on Sunday, making a strong appeal for a ceasefire in Gaza and a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine.

Francis presided over the mass in a flower-decked St. Peter’s Square and then delivered a heartfelt prayer for peace in his annual roundup of global crises. Gaza’s people, including the small Christian community there, have been a source of constant concern for Francis, and Easter in the Holy Land overall was a sombre affair this year given the war.

“Peace is never made with weapons, but with outstretched hands and open hearts,” Francis said from the loggia overlooking the square, to applause from the wind-swept crowd below.

Francis appeared in good form, despite having celebrated the 2½-hour nighttime Easter vigil just hours before. The pontiff, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling respiratory problems all winter and his full participation in Easter services was not entirely guaranteed, especially after he skipped the traditional Good Friday procession.

But in a sign the 87-year-old pontiff was feeling OK, he made several loops around the piazza in his popemobile after Mass, greeting well-wishers.

Pope Francis, in a white robe, greets people after Easter mass.
Pope Francis waves to people after celebrating Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press)

The Vatican said some 60,000 people attended the Mass, with more packing the Via della Conciliazione boulevard leading to the piazza.

At the start of the service, a gust of wind knocked over a large religious icon on the altar just a few feet from the pope; ushers quickly righted it.

Easter Mass is one of the most important dates on the liturgical calendar, celebrating what the faithful believe was the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. The Mass precedes the “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing, in which the pope traditionally offers a laundry list of the threats afflicting humanity.

This year, Francis said his thoughts went particularly to people in Ukraine and Gaza and all those facing war, particularly the children who he said had “forgotten how to smile.”

“In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for the sake of all!” he said.

He called for the “prompt” release of prisoners taken from Israel on Oct. 7, an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and for humanitarian access to reach Palestinians.

Pope Francis sits under a wooden canopy as he presides over Easter mass.
Some 60,000 people attended Easter Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images)

“Let us not allow the current hostilities to continue to have grave repercussions on the civil population, by now at the limit of its endurance, and above all on the children,” he said in a speech that also touched on the plight of Haitians, the Rohingya and victims of human trafficking.

For the past few weeks, Francis has generally avoided delivering long speeches to avoid the strain on his breathing. He ditched his Palm Sunday homily last week and decided at the last minute to stay home from the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum.

The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was made to “conserve his health.”

WATCH | Pope Francis hospitalized after experiencing trouble breathing (March 29, 2024): 

Pope Francis hospitalized with pulmonary infection

The Vatican says Pope Francis will spend multiple days in hospital to receive treatment for a pulmonary infection. His stay comes after he was experiencing trouble breathing.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Back To Top