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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 31, 2024
Pope Francis prays as he begins Easter morning Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 31, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts,” Pope Francis said in his Easter Message—called the “Urbi et Orbi,” to the city and the world. He called for specific, concrete, immediate steps that political leaders could take to end the wars and bring peace to the Holy Land and to Ukraine.

Pope Francis called for three actions to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land: “That access to humanitarian aid be ensured for the people of Gaza;” for “the prompt release of the Oct. 7 hostages,” and for “an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.” Significantly too, he appealed for the “respect for the principles of international law” both there and in Ukraine. Most surprising of all, he called for “a general exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine, all for the sake of all,” a step that could open the path to ending the two-year-long war in Ukraine.

Pope Francis, who was in very good form after celebrating the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica last night and presiding at Mass in the flower-adorned square this morning, made these appeals from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at midday on Easter Sunday, March 31. He did so after driving through the square in the popemobile, to enthusiastic applause and shouts of “Viva il Papa!”

Addressing a crowd of more than 100,000 people, and a global audience estimated at more than one billion, he reminded the peoples of the world that peace is possible because “Jesus is risen” from the dead. “He alone has the power to roll away the stones that block the path to life” just as he did on that first Easter Sunday morning.

“Today too,” the Argentine pope said, “great stones, heavy stones, block the hopes of humanity: the stone of war, the stone of humanitarian crises, the stone of human rights violations, the stone of human trafficking, and other stones as well.” Like the women disciples of Jesus, he said, “We too ask one another: ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’”

He reminded his global audience of “the amazing discovery of that Easter morning” 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, when “the stone, the immense stone, was rolled away” from the tomb of “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified,” and that he “has been raised!” from the dead (Mk 16:6).

“From this, everything begins anew!” the Jesuit pope said. “A new path leads through that empty tomb: the path that none of us, but God alone, could open; the path of life in the midst of death, the path of peace in the midst of war, the path of reconciliation in the midst of hatred, the path of fraternity in the midst of hostility.”

Pope Francis sought to encourage the peoples of the world dismayed by the spread of war in the Middle East, Europe, and so many other places, by reminding them that “Jesus Christ is risen!” and “He alone has the power to roll away the stones that block the path to life. He, the living One, is himself that path. He is the Way: the way that leads to life, the way of peace, reconciliation and fraternity.”

He told them, “[The Risen Jesus] opens that path, humanly impossible, because he alone takes away the sin of the world and forgives us our sins. For without God’s forgiveness, that stone cannot be removed. Without the forgiveness of sins, there is no overcoming the barriers of prejudice, mutual recrimination, the presumption that we are always right and others wrong. Only the risen Christ, by granting us the forgiveness of our sins, opens the way for a renewed world.”

Saying that “Jesus alone opens up before us the doors of life, those doors that continually we shut with the wars spreading throughout the world,” Pope Francis drew attention to the many peoples suffering from conflict in today’s world, beginning with those in “the Holy City of Jerusalem, that witnessed the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus” and “all the Christian communities of the Holy Land.”

He prayed that “the risen Christ may open a path of peace for the war torn peoples” in Israel, Palestine and Ukraine. He called for “respect for the principles of international law” in both regions.”

Then, in a surprise move, he called “for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for the sake of all!”

He appealed yet again to the authorities in Israel, though without naming them, “that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza,” and called once more to the Hamas leadership, though also without naming them, “for the prompt release of the hostages seized on 7 October last.” Last but not least, he called for “an immediate cease-fire in the [Gaza] Strip.”

Then the Jesuit pope said, “Let us not allow the current hostilities to continue to have grave repercussions on the civil population, by now at the limit of its endurance, and above all on the children. How much suffering we see in their eyes! With those eyes, they ask us: Why? Why all this death? Why all this destruction?”

“War is always an absurdity and a defeat!” he said, “Let us not allow the strengthening winds of war to blow on Europe and the Mediterranean. Let us not yield to the logic of weapons and rearming. Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts.”

Pope Francis then went on to draw global attention to the other unresolved conflicts in the world, starting with Syria, “which for fourteen years has suffered from the effects of a long and devastating war” including “so many deaths and disappearances, so much poverty and destruction.” He called for “a response on the part of everyone, and of the international community” to end all this.

He prayed “in a special way” for Lebanon, “which has for some time experienced institutional impasse and a deepening economic and social crisis, now aggravated by the hostilities on its border with Israel.” He asked the Risen Lord “to console the beloved Lebanese people and sustain the entire country in its vocation to be a land of encounter, coexistence and pluralism.”

Aware of tensions in the Western Balkans, he prayed that “ethnic, cultural and confessional differences not be a cause of division, but rather a source of enrichment for all of Europe.”

As he did at Christmas, so too today, he encouraged the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and urged the international community to help them “pursue dialogue, assist the displaced, respect the places of worship of the various religious confessions, and arrive as soon as possible at a definitive peace agreement.”

He prayed too for “all those who in other parts of the world are suffering from violence, conflict, food insecurity and the effects of climate change” and for “the victims of terrorism.”

He prayed that the Risen Lord may assist the people of Haiti to bring “an end to the acts of violence, devastation and bloodshed in that country” and “advance the path to democracy and fraternity.”

Francis, who has been to Myanmar and Bangladesh, prayed for the Rohingya people who are “beset by a grave humanitarian crisis” in both lands, and called for “a path to reconciliation in Myanmar, torn for years now by internal conflicts, so that every logic of violence may be definitively abandoned.”

Turning his attention to Africa, he prayed that the Risen Jesus may “open paths of peace on the African continent, especially for the suffering peoples in Sudan and in the entire region of the Sahel, in the Horn of Africa, in the region of Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the province of Capo Delgado in Mozambique, and bring an end to the prolonged situation of drought which affects vast areas and provokes famine and hunger.”

Francis, who is the son of migrants, called yet again for people to show “solidarity” to “migrants and on all those who are passing through a period of economic difficulty, and offer them consolation and hope in their moment of need.”

He called on people to respect “the precious gift of life” and mentioned how this is so often despised because children are “not being allowed to be born,” or “die of hunger” or are “deprived essential care or are victims of abuse and violence” or made “objects of trafficking.” He appealed to those with “political responsibilities” to “spare no efforts in combatting the scourge of human trafficking.”

He concluded by wishing “A happy Easter to all!” and then imparted his blessing to all listening.

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