VATICAN CITY (RNS) In his traditional Easter message, Pope Francis made sweeping calls for world peace, especially in troubled lands, such as Syria, Ukraine and the Middle East.
The Urbi et Orbi (Latin for “to the city and the world”) message, delivered from the central balcony of the basilica where he first appeared after his election a year ago, included a call to end “deadly force” on “defenseless” civilians in Syria and urgent humanitarian aid for victims of the conflict.
He also called for a halt to the “brutal terrorist attacks” in Nigeria and violence in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Iraq.
An estimated 150,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s Easter Mass message.
“We pray in a particular way for Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!” the pope said.
Recognizing the Catholic Church’s fraternity with those of the Orthodox faith, Francis singled out Ukraine for particular attention.
“We ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future,” he said.
It’s not the first time the pope has called for peace in Syria and Ukraine but he used one of the most important occasions on the Catholic calendar to underline his concern for those suffering from hunger and poverty arising from conflict.
The Argentine pontiff also called the tens of thousands of pilgrims who gathered in St Peter’s Square to overcome the “scourge of hunger” and the “immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible”.
In his message he expressed concern for those struck by the Ebola virus in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and urged greater care for those suffering from other diseases spread through neglect and dire poverty.
The pope urged pilgrims to promote “reconciliation and fraternal accord” in Venezuela, where anti- and pro-government protestors have clashed since February.
Francis ended his traditional speech with his characteristic informality, wishing the crowds a “Happy Easter!” and “Have a good lunch!”
YS/LM END MCKENNA