VATICAN CITY — In what’s supposed to be Christianity’s happiest day, Pope Francis issued an anguished plea on Easter Sunday for peace in the “senseless” war in Ukraine and other armed conflicts that make rage in the world, and cited the “troubling” risk of nuclear war.
“May peace reign for war-torn Ukraine, so hard-hit by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war in which it has been drawn,” Francis said, speaking from the central balcony of the St. Peter’s Square.
The pontiff had just finished celebrating Easter Mass in the square which was packed with worshipers for the feast for the first time since the pandemic began in early 2020. Applause erupted from many of the 50,000 people on square and on a nearby avenue when he mentioned Ukraine.
“Please, please don’t get used to war,” Francis pleaded, after denouncing “the flexing of muscles while people suffer.” Again, the pontiff denounced the war in Ukraine without quoting Russian President Vladimir Putin for the decision to launch the invasion and attack on Ukraine on February 24.
“Let us all commit to implore peace, from our balconies and in our streets,” Francis said. “May the rulers of the nations hear the call of the people for peace.”
In a clear reference to the threat of nuclear war, Francis quoted a statement by scientists in 1955: “’Shall we put an end to the human race, or must mankind renounce war?’
Francis also drew attention to other wars in the speech known by its Latin name “Urbi et Orbi” – to the city and to the world.
“May the conflict in Europe also make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and grief, situations that affect too many parts of our world, situations that we cannot ignore and do not want forget,” Francis said.
Among the conflicts cited by the pope were those in the Middle East. He urged peace and reconciliation for the peoples of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
He also cited Libya as well as Yemen, “which suffers from a conflict forgotten by all”.
Earlier, the pontiff, who has a knee ligament problem, limped badly as he made his way to an altar set up outside St. Peter’s Basilica. The altar was shaded by a canopy against a bright sun.
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. He waved and patted the head of a baby handed to him. His smiles as he waved to the crowds were a rare departure of late for the pope, who has used several of his appearances in recent weeks to issue somber denunciations of the war in Ukraine.
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 – have seen 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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