ROME – Pope Francis on Easter Sunday offered prayers for the hundreds killed and injured in a series of bombings in Sri Lanka earlier this morning, calling the attacks an act of “cruel violence”
“I was informed with sadness of the news of the serious attacks which, precisely today, on Easter day, have brought pain and mourning in some churches and other meeting places in Sri Lanka,” the pope said April 21, Easter day.
He expressed his “affectionate closeness” to the Christian community in Sri Lanka, which was “hit while gathered in prayer,” and to all victims “of this cruel violence.”
“I entrust to the Lord those who are tragically deceased, and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer due to this dramatic event,” he said, and asked for a moment of silent prayer.
Early Easter morning a total of three churches and three hotels were simultaneously bombed in Sri Lanka, so far leaving at least the 138 dead and more than 500 wounded, though the numbers are expected to go up.
Two of the churches hit by what are believed to be suicide bombers were St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo. The churches and hotels are in popular tourist areas.
In his traditional Urbi et Orbi address, a blessing which goes out “to the city (of Rome) and to the world” and which is given on Christmas and Easter, Francis said Jesus is alive and close to those in need, and he offered special prayers for all those suffering due to conflict and violence, urging Catholics not to be “cold and indifferent” to their plight.
Prior to giving the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing, Francis celebrated Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Keeping with past custom, Francis skipped his homily during Mass and instead led pilgrims in a moment of silent prayer and reflection on the day’s scripture readings.
Echoing the opening words of his recent post-syondal apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit, Francis in his Urbi et Orbi address told the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square that “Christ is alive! He is our hope…Everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life.”
“Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you,” he said, and, addressing every person throughout the world, said Easter is an invitation for “true renewal,” which always begins “from the heart, from the conscience.”
He then prayed specifically for victims of violence and conflict throughout the world, from the Middle East to Africa, from South America and Ukraine.
In his resurrection, Jesus “shows us the light of his face, and he does not abandon all those experiencing hardship, pain and sorrow,” he said, and offered prayers that victims of Syria’s ongoing bloody civil war would find hope in Christ, and that the world would not grow “resigned and indifferent” to the conflict.
Francis called for a “renewed commitment” to reaching a political solution ensuring peace and freedom, an adequate response to the growing humanitarian crisis, and a secure path for the homeless and displaced to return home.
Praying for the entire Middle East, particularly Yemen, Israel and Palestine, he prayed for political leaders and asked that Christians in the region have the ability to “patiently persevere in their witness to the Risen Lord and to the victory of life over death.”
Turning to Africa, the pope offered prayers for Libya, “where defenseless people are once more dying in recent weeks and many families have been forced to abandon their homes.”
“May the Living Christ grant his peace to the entire beloved African continent, still rife with social tensions, conflicts and at times violent forms of extremism that leave in their wake insecurity, destruction and death,” he said, naming Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon specifically.
Speaking of Sudan, he prayed for the political instability in the nation, and expressed hope that all parties would work “to enable the country to find the freedom, development and well-being to which it has long aspired.”
He also prayed for civil and religious authorities in South Sudan, noting that the country’s political and religious leadership recently attended a spiritual retreat in the Vatican.
“May a new page open in the history of that country, in which all political, social and religious components actively commit themselves to the pursuit of the common good and the reconciliation of the nation,” he said.
Francis then offered prayers for an end to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and in various parts of Latin America, specifically in Venezuela and Nicaragua, which have been torn by escalating political divisions for years.
“Before the many sufferings of our time, may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent,” Francis said, urging Catholics to be “builders of bridges, not walls.”
He called for an end to the arms trade and the “troubling spread of weaponry, especially in the economically more advanced countries.”
Praying for all those on the peripheries, the pope also asked that Christ would inspire faithful to open their hearts to the poor, vulnerable, unemployed, marginalized, and “all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge, and the recognition of their dignity.”
Closing his address, Francis said Christ is living and is the “hope and youth for each of us and for the entire world. May we let ourselves be renewed by him! Happy Easter!”