April 17 (UPI) — Pope Francis held mass during an Easter “marked by war” as St. Peter’s Square was packed with an estimated 100,000 visitors for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our eyes, too, are incredulous on this Easter of war. We have seen all too much blood, all too much violence. Our hearts, too, have been filled with fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing,” Francis said in his message.
“Instead, we are showing that we do not yet have within us the spirit of Jesus but the spirit of Cain, who saw Abel not as a brother, but as a rival, and thought about how to eliminate him,” Francis said.
The pope has been an outspoken critic of the “sacrilegious” war in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February and dedicated much of his message Sunday to urging for peace. Last week, he had urged for an “Easter truce” between Russia and Ukraine.
“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis said.
“In this terrible night of suffering and death, may a new dawn of hope soon appear! Let there be a decision for peace. May there be an end to the flexing of muscles while people are suffering. Please, please, let us not get used to war!”
Franis said, in an apparent veiled message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he wished “the leaders of nations” would “hear people’s plea for peace.”
“I hold in my heart all the many Ukrainian victims, the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, the divided families, the elderly left to themselves, the lives broken and the cities razed to the ground. I see the faces of the orphaned children fleeing from the war,” Francis said.
“As we look at them, we cannot help but hear their cry of pain, along with that of all those other children who suffer throughout our world: those dying of hunger or lack of medical care, those who are victims of abuse and violence and those denied the right to be born.”
(Francis has called abortion a “grave sin” but has previously granted priests the ability to grant forgiveness for them.)
The pope also said the war in Europe showed “encouraging signs” for humanity “such as the open doors of all those families and communities that are welcoming migrants and refugees.”
“May these numerous acts of charity become a blessing for our societies, at times debased by selfishness and individualism, and help to make them welcoming to all,” Francis said.
“May the conflict in Europe also make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and sorrow, situations that affect all too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget.”
Francis also asked for peace in the Middle East so that Israelis and Palestinians could both “enjoy free access” to holy sites in Jerusalem — and prayed for a “reconciliation” between people in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
“May there be peace also for Libya, so that it may find stability after years of tensions, and for Yemen, which suffers from a conflict forgotten by all, with continuous victims: may the truce signed in recent days restore hope to its people,” Francis said.
“We ask the risen Lord for the gift of reconciliation for Myanmar, where a dramatic scenario of hatred and violence persists, and for Afghanistan, where dangerous social tensions are not easing and a tragic humanitarian crisis is bringing great suffering to its people.”
When ending his message, Francis also addressed the worsening social conditions in Latin America and its “instances of crime, violence, corruption and drug trafficking.”
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States continues to support El Salvador in its efforts to battle gangs in the country after a spate of homicides committed by the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 gangs in March.