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Vatican: Pope Francis urges peace on Easter Sunday

March 31, 2024

Pope Francis led Easter Sunday celebrations, amid renewed focus on his health. He called for peace in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages, and for prisoner swaps between Russia and Ukraine.

Pope Francis gestures as he delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" (To the city and the world) message at St. Peter's Square, on Easter Sunday, at the Vatican March 31, 2024.
Pope Francis said that 'peace is never made by weapons' during his Easter addressImage: Remo Casilli/REUTERS

Crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Mass presided over by Pope Francis that began Easter Sunday celebrations in the Vatican

Francis, seated on a chair with a large golden crucifix behind it, waved and spoke with other clerics at the service that started at around 10 a.m. local time (0800 UTC/GMT) on Sunday. 

Photo from high vantage of crowds gathering at St. Peter's Square in Rome for the Easter Mass on Sunday, March 31, 2024.
Thousands gathered outside the basilica in St. Peter's SquareImage: Marco Iacobucci/ipa-agency/picture alliance

Appeal for cease-fire in Gaza, and Russia-Ukraine prisoner swaps

Francis called for steps towards deescalation in the conflicts in both Ukraine and Gaza during his Easter message at around noon. 

"Peace is never made with weapons. But with outstretched hands and open hearts," Francis said during his "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and to the world") blessing from the loggia overlooking the square. 

Pope Francis attends the Easter Mass, at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 31, 2024.
The pope stood with the help of a stick during the morning ceremonyImage: Yara Nardi/REUTERS

"I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza, and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on October 7 and for an immediate cease-fire," the pope said, following the passage of a resolution with similar demands through the UN Security Council

On the subject of Ukraine, a difficult issue for the pontiff following Kyiv's criticism of his recent calls for Ukraine to show the "courage of the white flag" and negotiate with Russia, he recommended instead a large-scale prisoner swap as a show of good faith between the two sides. 

"In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine," he told worshippers. 

Toured area in popemobile after service

The pontiff used his open-topped popemobile to tour the square and the avenue connecting the Vatican to the River Tiber after the service, greeting tens of thousands who'd lined up to see him. 

Sunday's ceremony is the highpoint of the Catholic church's most important religious festival. 

According to Christian traditions, Easter celebrates Jesus' resurrection and the victory of life over death.

St. Peter's Square was bedecked with flowers gifted from the Netherlands on Sunday, a tradition now going back decades. Swiss Guards lined the courtyard.

Swiss Guards stand at St. Peter's Square on the day of the Easter Mass expected to be attended by Pope Francis, at the Vatican, March 31, 2024.
The Vatican's Swiss Guard oversaw the morning MassImage: Remo Casilli/REUTERS

Pope's health back in focus amid Christianity's most important festival

On Saturday, Pope Francis led the Easter Vigil ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica, condemning selfishness and apathy in the world and voicing hope for peace. 

This followed him skipping the Good Friday procession at short notice in what Vatican officials said was a precautionary step given the weekend's busy itinerary. 

The 87-year-old Argentine pontiff has been in poor health in recent months and Friday's cancellation revived attention in the Italian and international press. 

Francis had missed the "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross) procession on Good Friday in 2023 as well, but that had been announced well in advance following a hospital stay with bronchitis. He underwent a hernia operation a few weeks later. 

Faithful hold the cross as they take part in the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday, in Rome, Friday, March 29, 2024.
The torchlight Via Crucis procession in Rome is among the more physically demanding parts of the Easter festivities Image: Andrew Medichini/AP Photo/picture alliance

He also missed one other homily around a week ago and delegated speaking roles to others at some recent events where he was said to appear fatigued.

But on Saturday, having arrived in a wheelchair, Francis spoke for around 10 minutes during a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony and stayed afterward to talk with participants.

msh/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)