At Easter, Francis implores God for peace, success of US-Iran framework

Pope Francis delivers his Easter blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis delivers his Easter blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis used his yearly Easter message on Sunday to implore God for peace in various parts of the world suffering from war and violence, mentioning particularly Christians who are suffering violence because of their faith.

The pontiff also publicly prayed to God regarding the recent U.S.-Iran nuclear weapons agreement framework, asking that it be a "definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world."

Speaking from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on a wet and rainy day in Rome, Francis also called on Christians to look at Christ's resurrection story to remember that they are called to be "seeds of another humanity" that is not arrogant or violent.

"The world proposes that we put ourselves forward at all costs, that we compete, that we prevail," said the pope.

"But Christians, by the grace of Christ, dead and risen, are the seeds of another humanity, in which we seek to live in service to the other, not to be arrogant, but rather respectful and available," he continued.

"This is not weakness, but true strength!" the pope exhorted. "Who bears within him or herself God’s power, his love and his justice, does not have need to use violence; he or she speaks and acts with the power of truth, beauty and love."

"From the risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace," said Francis.

Francis made his prayer at noon in Rome Sunday during the Urbi et Orbi blessing, a special blessing given by the pope only at Easter and Christmas. It followed Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square, which saw high numbers of attendance despite on-and-off pouring rain in Rome.

Continuing his blessing Sunday, the pope asked and several times implored God to stop violence in many places of the world -- mentioning particularly Iraq and Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and Ukraine.

The pontiff also asked for "peace and freedom" for men and women "subject to old and new forms of enslavement" and for "peace and liberty" for those who are victims of drug dealers, who he said "are often allied with the powers who should defend peace and harmony in the human family."

Mentioning Christians suffering persecution, Francis asked: "Jesus, the Victor, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence."

Following with the list of nations suffering violence, the pope also prayed for a "resumed" peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

With regard to the recent framework agreed between the United States and Iran, Francis said: "In hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world."

At the beginning of his Easter message, the pontiff retold the story of Jesus' resurrection saying that it "shows everyone the way to life and happiness: this way is humility, which involves humiliation."

"On Easter morning, alerted by the women, Peter and John ran to the tomb," said the pope. "They found it open and empty."

"Then they drew near and 'bent down' in order to enter it," he continued. "To enter into the mystery, we need to 'bend down,' to decrease ourselves. Only those who decrease themselves understand the glorification of Jesus and are able to follow him on his way."

Sunday's Mass wraps a busy few days for the Vatican, which has been preparing the ceremonies for Holy Week. Saturday evening Francis led an Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, where he baptized 10 people from five different countries.

On Friday evening, Francis led a candlelit "Way of the Cross" at Rome's ancient Colosseum in celebration of Good Friday. The meditations for that event made connections between the crucifixion of Jesus and the modern-day use of the death penalty.

The reflections, written for the occasion by a retired Italian bishop, pointedly asked: “When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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