VATICAN CITY — On what is supposed to be Christianity’s most joyful day, Pope Francis made an anguished Easter Sunday plea for peace in the “senseless” war in Ukraine and in other armed conflicts raging in the world, and voiced worry about the risk of nuclear warfare.
“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis said, speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Square.
Just after he had finished the Easter Mass in the Square packed with faithful, the pontiff went on to address the crowd. When he spoke of Ukraine, a large portion of the crowd, which was estimated to be 100,000, elicited applause.
“Please, please, let us not get used to war,” Francis pleaded, after denouncing ”the flexing of muscles while people are suffering.” Yet again, the pontiff didn’t cite Russian President Vladimir Putin for the decision to launch the invasion and attacks against Ukraine on Feb. 24.
People’s hearts are filled with “fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing,” the pontiff said.
“Let us all commit ourselves to imploring peace, from our balconies and in our streets,” Francis said. ”May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace.”
In a clear reference to the threat of nuclear warfare, Francis quoted from a noted declaration of 1955: “’Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?’”
Bertrand Russell was the philosopher and Albert Einstein was the physicist. The manifesto’s text, sounding a grim warning against the consequences of nuclear warfare, was issued a few months after Einstein died.
In Britain, Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury) called on Russia to end the war in Ukraine and declare a ceasefire.
Noting that in the Eastern Orthodox church followed by many in Russia and Ukraine Sunday marks the start of Holy Week — with Easter coming on April 24 — Welby exhorted Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and commit to talks.
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 sorrow, situations that affect all too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget,” Francis said.
Two days after Palestinians and Israeli police clashed in Jerusalem, Francis prayed that “Israelis, Palestinians and all the inhabitants of the Holy City, together with pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, of living in brotherhood and of accessing Holy Places” in reciprocal respect.
He called for reconciliation and peace for the citizens of Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Iraq.
Francis spoke plaintively about Yemen, “which suffers from a conflict forgotten by all, with continuous victims.” He expressed hope that a recent truce would restore hope to that country’s people.
He also prayed that God grant “reconciliation for Myanmar, where a dramatic scenario of hatred and violence persists,” and for Afghanistan, which is gripped by a humanitarian crisis, including food shortages.
Francis denounced the exploitation of the African continent and “terrorist attacks — particularly in the Sahel region,” as well as the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia and violence in Congo.
Many Latin Americans have felt their situation worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. This was exacerbated by corruption, violence, and drug trafficking.
But Francis found hope in the “open doors of all those families and communities that are welcoming migrants and refugees throughout Europe,” referring to the some 10 million people who have either fled Ukraine or are internally displaced by the war.
A paramedic from Warsaw set up a traditional Easter breakfast at the Polish border station Medyka for the recent refugees from Ukraine. He served ham, cheese, and eggs to the most of them who have flocked into Poland.
“They lost their homes. They are seeking refuge in our country,” said volunteer Agnieszka Kuszaj. She hoped that the meal would help them “forget for a moment about all the terrible things” that have happened.
Maria Dontsova, 31, who is from Kharviv, the heavily bombed city in eastern Ukraine said: “I wish all families peace who are suffering in Ukraine at this great holiday Easter.” Speaking in English, she expressed hope that war will end “as soon as possible, and people stop suffering, and we can prevent the war (from) spreading to Europe”
Earlier, the pontiff, who has a knee ligament problem, limped badly as he made his way to an altar set up in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Francis boarded his white popemobile after the Easter morning Mass and took off for an exciting ride through the square with cheering fans.
Spain saw a large number of believers returning to Holy Week procesions for the first week since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Jill Lawless was in London; Joseph Wilson was in Barcelona; and Srdjan Needeljkovic (Medyka, Poland) contributed.
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