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Pope leads crowds at first outdoor Easter mass since pandemic
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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis celebrated Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic, making Christianity the happiest day at a time when the war in Ukraine weighs heavily on his heart.

The pontiff, who has a knee ligament problem, limped heavily out of the back of St. Peter’s Basilica to reach an altar set up on the steps outside, shaded by a canopy against bright sunshine.

Tens of thousands of people, numbered 50,000 by the Vatican, many in shirtsleeves, filled the flower-filled square and a nearby boulevard to hear his words.

After mass, Francis, who is 85 and also suffers from chronic back problems, was due to go to the central balcony of the basilica, where he will deliver a geopolitical speech known in Latin as “Urbi et Orbi” (à la city ​​and in the world), which the pontiffs of the last decades have used to denounce conflicts and injustices throughout the world.

Just after Mass ended, Francis shook hands with the prelates, then boarded the white popemobile for a whirlwind through the square to greet the enthusiastic well-wishers among the base faithful.

Meanwhile, in London, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called on Russia to declare a ceasefire and withdraw from Ukraine. The Anglican Church leader said Easter was a time of peace and not ‘blood and iron’.

Noting that in the Eastern Orthodox Church followed by many in Russia and Ukraine, Sunday marks the start of Holy Week – with Easter on April 24 – Welby urged Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and engage in talks.

In an unusually candid political remark, Welby also condemned the British government’s recent plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as going against God.

Warm weather and the easing of many pandemic restrictions – including what had been for most of the pandemic in Italy a mandatory outdoor mask requirement – ​​saw the tourism boom in Rome, with many visitors flooding the city for the Holy Week ceremonies which culminated in Easter.

In Spain, believers and secular devotees flocked in large numbers to Holy Week processions this week for the first time since the start of the pandemic after most health restrictions were lifted.

Jill Lawless in London and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed.

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