ROME – After spending nine days in the hospital following an abdominal surgery, Pope Francis made his first public appearance Sunday, offering his weekly Angelus address and thanking all those who prayed for him during his recovery.

The pontiff also used the occasion to lament the recent sinking of an overcrowded fishing boat off the coast of Greece in which some 500 people are feared drowned, marking one of the deadliest tragedies to ever be recorded in the Mediterranean Sea.

He also noted the recent slaughter in Uganda, in which Islamic militants killed at least 41 people and abducted six others in an assault on a school, and also offered prayers for “the martyred Ukraine,” which he said is “suffering a lot.”

He began with a note of thanks.

“I want to express my gratitude to those who during my recovery at the Gemelli Hospital showed me affection, thoughtfulness and friendship, and who promised me the support of prayer,” the pope said, speaking from the window of Vatican’s Apostolic Palace overlooking those gathered in St. Peter’s Square below.

“For me, this human and spiritual closeness has been a great help and a great comfort. I thank you from the heart,” he said.

On the Mediterranean tragedy, Francis noted that Tuesday, June 20, is the United Nations’ World Refugee Day.

“With great sadness and much pain, I think of the victims of the shipwreck that happened in recent days near the coast of Greece. It seems, it seems that the sea was calm,” the pope said, and offered his prayers for those who lost their lives.

He prayed “that always, everything possible be done to prevent similar tragedies.”

Pope Francis was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital June 7 for surgery on an abdominal hernia, and was discharged Friday morning, after nine days of recovery.

Though he has given his Sunday Angelus address from the hospital in the past, last week Francis skipped the event, reciting the prayer in private, after doctors advised him to do so in order to prevent strain on his abdomen.

The surgery marked the pope’s second hospitalization in three months, having been admitted for bronchitis in March, and his second surgery in two years, following an invasive colon surgery in July 2021.

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Pope Francis focused his Sunday Angelus address, during which he appeared rested and energetic, on God’s closeness and the need to turn to God like a child does their father in times of difficulty.

He focused on the day’s Gospel passage from Matthew, in which Jesus sends the disciples out, telling them to “Preach as you go, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

“It is the same proclamation with which Jesus began his preaching: the kingdom of God, that is, his lordship of love, has come near, it comes in our midst,” the pope said, insisting that if God is close, then “we are not alone on earth, and even in difficulty we do not lose faith.”

God is never far from his people, but rather knows and loves each one, Francis said, and “he wants to take you by the hand, even when you travel on steep and rugged paths, even when you fall and struggle to get up again and get back on track.”

“Often in the moments when you are at your weakest, you can feel his presence all the more strongly,” he said, urging faithful to approach God like a child.

When a child holds their father’s hand, the world seems different, and the unknown becomes “familiar and secure, because the child knows he is protected. He is not afraid,” but rather learns and grows with joy, the pope said.

“This is why God’s vicinity is the first proclamation: by staying close to God, we conquer fear, we open ourselves to love, we grow in goodness, and we feel the need and the joy to proclaim,” he said.

One must sit “on God’s lap” to learn how to look at the world with trust and with love, and to then proclaim that God is a father, he said, saying, “he alone transforms our hearts and gives us that joy and that peace that we ourselves cannot attain.”

Pope Francis urged faithful to perform works of love and hope for others, and to ask themselves whether they know how to look at God trustingly, as a child does.

“Do we know how to sit in the Father’s lap with prayer, by listening to the Word, partaking of the Sacraments? … Do we know how to instill courage in others, to make ourselves close to those who suffer and are alone, to those who are distant and even those who are hostile?” he said.

He closed his address saying, “In recent days I have received so much closeness and for this I bless God and am grateful to you all: my heartfelt thanks!”

Pope Francis closed with his signature tagline, “don’t forget to pray for me,” and wished pilgrims a good lunch.

The pontiff is expected to maintain his scheduled meetings and appointments this week, except for his Wednesday public general audience, which can last several hours, and which he is will skip to aid his continued recovery.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen