April 5 (UPI) — Pope Francis, during a scaled-back Easter Mass for the second year in a row Sunday, condemned “scandalous” armed conflicts as the coronavirus “pandemic is still spreading.”
Francis led the service in St. Peter’s Basilica secondary altar with safety protocols rather than outside among thousands of faithful at St. Peter’s Square. Italy is in the midst of a lockdown.
“Dear brothers and sisters, once again this year, in various places many Christians have celebrated Easter under severe restrictions and, at times, without being able to attend liturgical celebrations,” Francis said during his urbi et oribi message. “We pray that those restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely.”
Saturday night’s service began two hours earlier so people could get home before Rome’s 10 p.m. curfew.
“The Easter message does not offer us a mirage or reveal a magic formula,” the pontiff said Sunday. “It does not point to an escape from the difficult situation we are experiencing. The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor.”
He added: “Nonetheless – and this is scandalous — armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened. That is today’s scandal.”
On the day that marks the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified on Good Friday, the pope said, “In the face of, or better, in the midst of this complex reality, the Easter message speaks concisely of the event that gives us the hope that does not disappoint: ‘Jesus who was crucified has risen.’ It speaks to us not about angels or ghosts, but about a man, a man of flesh and bone, with a face and a name: Jesus.”
Among the armed conflicts, he named Myanmar and Tigray.
“May the efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully continue, in respect for human rights and the sacredness of life, through fraternal and constructive dialogue in a spirit of reconciliation and true solidarity,” he said. “May the power of the risen Lord sustain the peoples of Africa who see their future compromised by internal violence and international terrorism, especially in the Sahel and Nigeria, as well as in Tigray and the Cabo Delgado region.”
And noted the situation in Myanmar, saying: “I express my closeness to young people throughout the world and, in these days, especially to the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully, in the knowledge that hatred can be dispelled only by love.”
He also spoke about Iraq, where he visited last month: “I pray that it may continue along the path of peace and thus fulfil God’s dream for a human family hospitable and welcoming to all his children.”
Francis noted the efforts to control the pandemic, namely medical personnel and the vaccine.
“May the Lord give them comfort and sustain the valiant efforts of doctors and nurses,” he said. “Everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, requires assistance and has the right to have access to necessary care. This is even more evident in these times when all of us are called to combat the pandemic. Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight.”
He urged widespread vaccination.
“I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries.”
Francis also noted the economic toll.
“The crucified and risen Lord is comfort for those who have lost their jobs or experience serious economic difficulties and lack adequate social protection,” he said. “May he inspire public authorities to act so that everyone, especially families in greatest need, will be offered the assistance needed for a decent standard of living. Sadly, the pandemic has dramatically increased the number of the poor and the despair of thousands of people.”
He ended his message by saying: “A good, happy and serene Easter to all of you!”