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Pope Francis, in Easter Message, Calls for Gaza Cease-Fire

WorldEuropePope Francis, in Easter Message, Calls for Gaza Cease-Fire


Amid renewed concerns about his health, Pope Francis presided over Easter Sunday Mass, and with a hoarse but strong voice, he delivered a major annual message that touched on conflicts across the globe, with explicit appeals for peace in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine.

The appearance came after the pope decided to reduce his participation in two major Holy Week events, seemingly at the last minute.

Those decisions seemed to mark a new phase in a more than 11-year papacy throughout which Francis has made the acceptance of the limits that challenge and shape humanity a constant theme. Now, he seems to have entered a period in which he is himself scaling back to observe, and highlight, the limits imposed by his own health constraints, and to conserve strength for the most critical moments.

On Sunday after the Mass, Francis took a prolonged spin in his popemobile around St. Peter’s Square before ascending to a balcony overlooking it to deliver his traditional Easter message.

“Let us not allow the strengthening winds of war to blow on Europe and the Mediterranean,” he said to the tens of thousands of faithful, dignitaries, Swiss Guards and clergy filling the square.

Referring to the stone that had blocked the tomb of Jesus before his resurrection, which Easter celebrates, Francis said that “today, too, great stones, heavy stones, block the hopes of humanity.”

“The stone of war, the stone of humanitarian crises, the stone of human rights violations, the stone of human trafficking, and other stones as well,” he said.

The address was a compendium of Francis’ priorities, including the need to ease the suffering of people affected by war, natural disasters and famine in parts of the world he has himself visited. He addressed the plight of migrants, prayed for “consolation and hope” for the poor, and spoke against human trafficking and arms dealing.

But his focus, Francis said, was particularly turned toward the conflicts afflicting the world.

“My thoughts go especially to the victims of the many conflicts worldwide, beginning with those in Israel and Palestine, and in Ukraine,” he said, calling for the exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.

“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 7 October last and for an immediate cease-fire in the Strip,” he added.

Holy Week is one of the most demanding and significant on the Christian calendar, and Francis has been dogged all winter by what the Vatican has called the flu, bronchitis and cold-like symptoms. His doctor told the Italian news media on Saturday that Francis was in good shape for his age, but that flu season was difficult for him, as it was for many older people, partly because he had part of a lung removed as a young man.

In recent years, Francis’ health has declined. He had a significant portion of his large intestine removed in 2021, and last year he spent time in the hospital to remove potentially dangerous intestinal scar tissue from previous surgeries. Bad knee ligaments have often kept him to a wheelchair, and have required him to use a cane when he is on his feet.

Those ailments came to the fore last week when Francis skipped the homily, a sermon central to the Mass service, on Palm Sunday, and then forewent the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum — an event he missed in 2023 because he was recovering from bronchitis.

But this year, a chair for him had been placed on a platform outside the Colosseum, suggesting that the decision not to attend came at the last minute. The Vatican said Francis had taken the decision “to conserve his health” in preparation for events on Saturday and Sunday.

Francis did preside over the Holy Thursday ritual of washing the feet of the faithful at a women’s prison in Rome. He appeared both purposeful and strong, talking with the inmates and giving a chocolate Easter egg to one of their sons. Then on Saturday evening, he presided over a long and solemn Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica.

On Sunday, Francis waved and seemed in good spirits as people shouted, “Long live the pope,” during his spin around St. Peter’s Square. He then re-emerged on the basilica’s balcony, lined with flowers, where he spoke about the toll that conflicts take on civilians.

In what amounted to a survey of the world’s often-forgotten conflicts, the pope spoke about the continuing suffering in Syria because of “a long and devastating war.” He expressed concern for Lebanese people affected by hostilities on their country’s border with Israel. He prayed for an end to the “violence, devastation and bloodshed” in Haiti, an easing of the humanitarian crisis afflicting the Rohingya ethnic minority persecuted in Myanmar, and an end to the suffering in Sudan and in the Sahel region of Africa.

And in Gaza, he said the eyes of suffering children ask: “Why? Why all this death?”



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