Vatican City — Pope Francis used his yearly Easter message on Sunday to call attention to people suffering from war, violence, and disease around the world, asking for peace and reconciliation in different areas of conflict.
Speaking from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to an estimated 150,000 pilgrims who packed the square below for the Easter papal Mass on a clear Roman day, the pope prayed particularly for peoples in Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Nigeria, South Sudan, Venezuela, and Ukraine.
Using the phrase "Come and see" from the story of Christ's resurrection in Matthew's Gospel -- when women visiting the tomb of Jesus find it empty -- Francis said that "in every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love."
"It is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast," he said.
"Come and see," Francis continued. "Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness."
"With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord," said Francis, before praying for peoples in different areas around the world, including:
- Those left with hunger, "aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible";
- The vulnerable "especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned";
- Those in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia suffering from an Ebola outbreak and "to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty";
- For people "who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped";
- For the situation in Syria, that people there "can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue";
- For those in Iraq, that "victims of fratricidal acts of violence" may be comforted;
- That in Israel and Palestine "the hopes raised by the resumption of negotiations" may be sustained."
The pope also asked that the Lord "put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent."
"We beg for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and a halt to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria and the acts of violence in South Sudan," he said. "We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela."
Noting that the Roman Catholic church is celebrating this Easter along with the Orthodox churches -- an unusual alignment of their separate liturgical calendars -- Francis also asked God to "enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future."
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 was filled over what the Vatican says is normally maximum capacity for standing room, 141,000 people.
Prayers at the Mass were said in Hindi, French, Chinese, Latin, Italian, and German. A hymn was also sung in Greek, a nod to the alignment of calendars of the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches.
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 and in his homily called on those present to remember when they first encountered their Christian faith.
"Do I remember it?" Francis asked. "Have I forgotten it? Look for it. You'll find it. The Lord is waiting."
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 focused heavily on social justice themes, drawing connections between Christ's suffering and those of the homeless, jobless, migrants, and women.
While Monday will bring a bit of respite to the pontiff's schedule, that will change quickly as the Vatican is preparing for an April 27 ceremony to canonize Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. During the week the Vatican is hosting events to mark the life of each of the late pontiffs, leading to the official ceremony that is expected to attract hundreds of thousands from around the world to the area around the Vatican.