Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Pope calls for Middle East peace

Pope Francis has held a trimmed-back Easter Vigil service, in keeping with his simpler approach to the papacy

Pope Francis has delivered a plea for peace in his first Easter Sunday message to the world, decrying seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula after celebrating Mass along with more than 250,000 people in flower-bedecked St Peter's Square.

Francis shared in his flock's exuberance as they celebrated Christianity's core belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead following crucifixion.

After Mass, he stepped aboard an open-topped white popemobile for a cheerful spin through the joyous crowd, kissing babies and patting children on the head.

One admirer of both the pope and of the pope's favourite soccer team, Argentina's Saints of San Lorenzo, insisted that Francis take a team jersey he was waving at the pontiff. A delighted Francis obliged, briefly holding up the shirt, and the crowd roared in approval.

Francis has repeatedly put concern for the poor and suffering at the centre of his messages, and he pursued his promotion of the causes of peace and social justice in the Easter speech delivered from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica, the same place from where he was introduced to the world as the first Latin American pope on March 13, shortly after his election.

He said he was joyfully aiming his Easter greetings, at "every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons". Francis prayed that Jesus would inspire people to "change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace".

In his softly and slowly pronounced speech, Francis defined Easter as an "exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness."

As popes before him have, he urged Israelis and Palestinians, who "struggle to find the road of agreement" to find the courage to resume peace talks and end a conflict that "has lasted all too long." And, in reflecting on the two-year-old Syrian crisis, Francis asked, "How much suffering must there still be before a political solution" can be found?

The pope also expressed desire for a "spirit of reconciliation" on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea says it has entered "a state of war" with South Korea.

He also condemned violence in Africa, where he singled out for condemnation terrorists' hostage-taking, as well as strife in Mali and warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Central African Republican, which has driven people from their homes.

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