On Easter, pope calls for peace in Syria, Ukraine

A bustling crowd of about 150,000 worshipers traveled to Vatican City on Sunday to celebrate Easter with Pope Francis, who prayed for conflicts in Syria and Ukraine to end.

The pontiff also called for an end to the terrorism in Nigeria that has targeted many Christians.

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Some of the hymns at the Vatican Mass were in Russian, as Francis observed many Ukrainians of the Russian Orthodox faith were also celebrating the holiday.

Regarding the current conflict in Ukraine, he asked God to ”enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace.”

He hoped 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."

St. Peter’s Square was packed with Romans and pilgrims from various countries, many of whom who waved flags from their homelands, including Brazil, Mexico, Britain, Poland and Francis’ home country of Argentina.

Francis called for prayer for the hungry and poor worldwide, “aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible,” he said. 

“In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death,” Francis said on Sunday, marking the end of the Christian Holy Week.

“Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty,” he said.

“Comfort all those 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.”

He then specifically called out events, conflicts and disease in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Venezuela and Ukraine.

“We pray in a particular way for Syria, beloved Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force,” Francis said, “especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!”

About 10 percent of the Syrian population identifies themselves as Christian.

According to media reports, Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Maaloula, an ancient Christian town, in an attempt to sway the citizens that he and the Syrian government have the best solution to protecting them against Islamic extremists in the country.

Last year, hard-line Islamists took control of the town and held several nuns captive. In March, they released them as part of a prisoner-exchange deal and, earlier last week, Christian residents regained control of Maaloula.

There was also a call for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, citing the “hopes raised” by new negotiations between the two groups. He prayed for the African countries stricken with Ebola, a deadly virus that has killed 61 people in Guinea alone since the beginning of the year, according to a report on Saturday.

Referencing many Middle Eastern and African countries experiencing conflict, Francis prayed for those who have been forced from their homes.

“Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith,” he said.

Francis then invoked God, saying, “We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.”