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ROME – In his traditional Easter blessing, Pope Francis on Sunday again denounced the “cruel and senseless” war in Ukraine and expressed compassion for its victims, while also expressing hope that the world will not forget other global hot spots, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis told the 50,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, calling this an “Easter of war.”
“In this terrible night of suffering and death, may a new dawn of hope soon appear!” he said. “Let there be a decision for peace. May there be an end to the flexing of muscles while people are suffering. Please, let us not get used to war!”
At no point in his remarks, delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, did the pontiff mention Russia, which is consistent with his policy of criticizing the war but declining to denounce Russia by name.
The pope called on people to implore for peace from balconies and in the streets, and for the leaders of nations to hear the plea of the people.
Francis said that after a Lent that “seemed endless,” including not just the 40 days of preparation for Easter but two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world had an opportunity to “come out of the tunnel together,” pooling strength and resources. Instead, the pope said, “we still have with us the spirit of Cain, who saw Abel not as a brother but as a rival,” and eliminated him.
Quoting the 1955 Notice to the World, also known as the “Russell-Einstein Manifesto,” in which Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein highlighted the dangers of nuclear weapons and called for world leaders to seek peaceful resolutions to conflict, Francis reiterated their question: “Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?”
The pope added that Ukrainian suffering calls to mind “all those other children who suffer throughout our world: those dying of hunger or lack of medical care, those who are victims of abuse and violence, and those denied the right to be born.“
The pope highlighted “encouraging signs,” including the welcoming of refugees throughout Europe, and called this an opportunity to become more concerned about other situations of suffering and sorrow, that affect “too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget.”
Francis then named some of the many countries around the world currently in conflict, or with an unstable truce: from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq in the Middle East- calling in particular for peace for all the Christian communities there- to Libya, Yemen, “which suffers from a conflict forgotten by all,” Myanmar and Afghanistan.
Francis also called for peace on the entire African continent “so that the exploitation it suffers and the hemorrhaging caused by terrorist attacks – particularly in the Sahel region – may cease, and that it may find concrete support in the fraternity of the peoples.”
Turning to Latin America, his homeland, the Argentine pope called for “the risen Christ” to accompany the peoples who, in some cases, have seen their “social conditions worsen in these difficult times of pandemic, exacerbated as well by instances of crime, violence, corruption and drug trafficking.”
Perhaps the one surprise was a reference to Canada. The mention follows meetings he held with several indigenous peoples from this country earlier this month. At the end of a week-long series of encounters, Francis apologized for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential schools.
More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to assimilate Indigenous children. They were run by several Christian denominations on behalf of the government, and many were operated by the Catholic Church.
“Let us ask the risen Lord to accompany the journey of reconciliation that the Catholic Church in Canada is making with the Indigenous peoples,” he said. “May the Spirit of the risen Christ heal the wounds of the past and dispose hearts to seek truth and fraternity.”
At the end of the Easter Mass, Francis made a swing through the square in the popemobile, only the second time he’s done so in St. Peter’s Square since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. He also used it on Palm Sunday. Afterwards he went up to the loggia centrale, or the central balcony in St. Peter’s Basilica overlooking the square, to deliver what is known as the Urbi et Orbi blessing, “to the city and the world.”
This window is used regularly twice a year, for the blessing imparted on Easter Sunday and Christmas day. It’s also the window from where a new pope is presented to the world following a conclave.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma