In an Easter message highlighting hope, Pope Francis has invoked prayers for both the Ukrainian and Russian people, praised nations which welcome refugees, and called on Israelis and Palestinians wracked by the latest surge in deadly violence to forge a “climate of trust”.
Francis, along with dozens of prelates and tens of thousands of faithful, marked Christianity’s most joyful day with Mass in a flower-adorned St Peter’s Square.
Easter proclaims the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after crucifixion.
The 86-year-old pontiff topped the celebration with a traditional speech about troubled places in the world.
Encouraging “trust among individuals, peoples and nations”, Francis said the joyful expression of Easter “illumines the darkness and gloom in which, all too often, our world finds itself enveloped”.
The pope’s Easter message is known by its Latin name, Urbi et Orbi, which means “to the city and the world”.
Since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022, Francis has repeatedly called for the fighting to end and sought prayers for the “martyred” Ukrainian people.
Ukrainian diplomats have complained that he has not come down hard enough in his statements on Russia and particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Vatican tries to avoid alienating Russia.
“Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia,” Francis implored God in his Easter speech, which he delivered while sitting in a chair on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica facing the square.
“Comfort the wounded and all those who have lost loved ones because of the war, and grant that prisoners may return safe and sound to their families.”
He urged the international community to work to end the war in Ukraine and “all conflict and bloodshed in the world, beginning with Syria, which still awaits peace”.
Francis also prayed for those who lost loved ones in an earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey two months ago, claiming tens of thousands of lives.
With a renewal in deadly violence affecting both Israelis and Palestinians in recent days, Francis called for a “resumption of dialogue, in a climate of trust and reciprocal respect, between Israelis and Palestinians, so that peace may reign in the Holy City and in the entire region”, a reference to Jerusalem.
But Francis also noted progress on some fronts.
“Let us rejoice at the concrete signs of hope that reach us from so many countries, beginning with those that offer assistance and welcome to all fleeing war and poverty,” he said, without naming any particular nations.
How to care for asylum seekers, migrants and refugees, and whether to allow them entrance, is a raging political and social debate in much of Europe, as well as in the United States and elsewhere.
Francis also prayed that national leaders “ensure that no man or woman may encounter discrimination” and that there would be “full respect for human rights and democracy”.
With migrants risking their lives in smugglers’ unseaworthy boats in the hopes of reaching Europe, the pope lamented that Tunisia’s people, particularly the young, struggle with social and economic hardship.
In the last two weeks, dozens have died or were left missing after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia.
The pope included Lebanon and two African countries he visited this year – South Sudan and Congo – among the nations in need of ending divisions and building reconciliation.
Speaking about Haiti, he appealed to “political actors and the international community to seek a definitive solution to the many problems that afflict that sorely tried people”.
The bloody conflicts cited by Francis contrasted with a riot of bright colours lent by orange-red tulips, yellow sprays of forsythia and daffodils, hyacinths and other colourful seasonal flowers that decorated St Peter’s Square.
The blooms were brought in trucks from the Netherlands and set up in planters to decorate the Vatican square.
Some 45,000 people had gathered by the start of the mid-morning Mass, according to Vatican security services, but the crowd swelled to some 100,000 ahead of the noon appointment for the pontiff’s speech from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica overlooking the square.
A canopy on the edge of steps on the square sheltered the pontiff, who was back in the public eye 12 hours after a 2.25-hour long Easter vigil ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica the night before.
Still recovering from bronchitis, Francis, 86, skipped the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum due to unseasonably cold night-time temperatures.
Francis has generally rebounded following a three-day stay last week at a Rome hospital where he was administered antibiotics intravenously for bronchitis.
He was discharged on April 1.
But near the end of the more than two-hour-long Easter Sunday appearance, Francis seemed to start running out of steam.
His voice grew hoarse and he interrupted his speech at one point to cough.
He nonetheless made several laps through the square in the popemobile after the Mass, waving and smiling at cheering well-wishers.