ROME – On Easter Monday, Pope Francis issued an appeal for kidnapping victims to be released, and also offered a special prayer for persons with autism on a day designated by the United Nations as “World Autism Awareness Day.”
Addressing an estimated crowd of 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff urged them “to take every opportunity to be witnesses to the peace of the risen Lord, especially with regard to the most fragile and disadvantaged.”
“In this regard, I want to assure a special prayer for World Autism Awareness Day, which is celebrated today,” the pope said.
Francis then made his reference to kidnappings.
“I invoke the gift of peace for the entire world, especially for populations that suffer the most as a result of conflicts that are underway,” he said. “In particular, I renew my appeal that people who have been kidnapped or unjustly deprived of their liberty may return to their homes.”
That language was basically identical to an appeal Francis issued on Christmas Eve 2017, when he said: “I invoke the gift of peace for the whole world, especially for populations suffering the most because of conflicts underway. I renew in particular my appeal that, on the occasion of Christmas, kidnapped persons – priests, men and women religious, and lay faithful – be released and can return to their homes.”
Monday’s remarks came in the pope’s Regina Coeli address, referring to the noontime prayer used by the Church during the Easter season in place of the customary Angelus, delivered from the window of the papal apartments overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
Francis did not cite any specific kidnapping situations, but several Catholic personnel in various parts of the world have been the subject of appeals either to, or by, the pope.
In late January, for instance, a video came to light from Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, a Colombian nun kidnapped by two local terrorist organizations that are linked to Al Qaeda, in which Argoti pleads for the pope’s help in securing her release.
In Dec. 2017, Pope Francis publicly appealed for the release of six nuns taken from the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Convent in Iguoriakhi, Nigeria in the previous months. The six were later freed in a police operation in early January.
The Vatican on Monday released a message from Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, Prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, for World Autism Day.
“With its works, the Church shows its attention and solicitude for persons with disturbances of the autistic spectrum,” Turkson said.
“There’s a general attitude of welcome present in our communities, although we still struggle to practice real inclusion, for which it’s fundamental that ‘our Christian communities be houses in which every kind of suffering finds compassion, in which every family with its burden of pain and weariness can feel understood and respected in its dignity’,” he said, quoting a 2016 message from Francis.
“I address a special gaze at the families of persons with disturbances of the autistic spectrum, which merit great admiration for accepting, with love, the difficult burden of a child struck with this disturbance,” Turkson said.
Observing that national and international laws requiring assistance for persons with autism are “rarely put into effect,” Turkson said it’s usually families left to provide the bulk of the care. He called for an alliance among health systems, social service providers, and educators, to guarantee care for “the whole arc of life.”
“Persons struck by these disturbances, daily, are faced not only with difficulties resulting from their condition, but also by the main limits that society itself imposes on them, preventing them from being able to realize their true potential,” Turkson said.
Earlier in Monday’s Regina Coeli, Francis noted that the Monday after Easter traditionally is known as “Monday of the Angel,” referring to a Gospel scene in which an angel informs women who had come to Christ’s tomb to perfume his body that he’s risen.
“Just as it was an angel, Gabriel, who announced the Incarnation [to Mary], thus to announce for the first time the resurrection, a human word wasn’t sufficient,” the pope said.
Although many observers say that Easter Monday, known in Italy as Pasquetta, has lost much of its religious significance, becoming largely a way to extend the Easter holiday, Francis argued that the spirit of get-togethers with family and friends actually holds onto an important Christian value.
“Fraternity is the fruit of Christ’s Easter, who, with his death and resurrection, has defeated the sin that separates the human person from God, the human person from himself, and the human person from his brothers,” the pope said.
“It’s very important in our time to rediscover fraternity,” the pope said.
“Only fraternity can guarantee a durable peace, can defeat poverty, can resolve tensions and wars, and can eliminate corruption and criminality,” he said. Francis added that the resurrection of Christ “set off in the world an explosion of the novelty of dialogue and relationships, a novelty that for Christians has become a responsibility.”
The Regina Coeli wraps up a busy Easter period for Francis, marking the seventh public address he’s delivered in the past five days.
Two times during the course of his brief address, Francis led the crowd in the square in reciting the heart of the Easter message: “Truly, Christ is risen!” He also closed his remarks with the phrase.