In front of a crowd of more than 60 thousand faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis made a passionate appeal for peace and unity among peoples and countries, in addition to calling for an end to armed conflicts around the world, during his traditional blessing after Easter mass at the Vatican.

The Pope appealed for peace, called for the release of Israeli hostages, an immediate cessation of fires in Gaza and a “general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.”

During the ceremony, which was attended by more than 350 cardinals, the pontiff called for guaranteed access for humanitarian aid to Gaza and the immediate release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas, as well as an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

The Pope appealed for peace in regions affected by conflict, such as Israel, Palestine, Ukraine and Syria, highlighting the importance of dialogue and respect for international law.

“Let us not allow ongoing hostilities to continue to seriously affect the already exhausted civilian population, and especially children,” declared the pontiff during the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing. “How much suffering we see in children’s eyes, children have forgotten to smile in these war zones. With their eyes, children ask us: Why? Why all this death? Why all this destruction? War is always absurd and a defeat,” he said.

The 87-year-old Argentine Jesuit reviewed the different conflicts that are plaguing the world, at a time when a new round of negotiations begins for a truce between Israel and Hamas.

UNICEF reported earlier this month that Israel has killed more than 13,000 children in Gaza since the war began on October 7, while others suffer from severe malnutrition and “do not even have the energy to cry.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said on Sunday that at least 32,782 Palestinians have been killed in the besieged enclave during nearly six months of war. The toll includes at least 77 deaths in the past 24 hours, the ministry statement said, adding that 75,298 people were injured.

He also called for a “general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine”, at war since February 2022, when Moscow invaded the former Soviet republic.

“War is always absurd and a defeat. Let us not let the winds of war blow ever stronger over Europe and the Mediterranean. Let us not give in to the logic of weapons and rearmament,” he declared from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

In his message, the Pope reflected on the symbolism of Jesus’ empty tomb, highlighting that it represents the new path opened by God for humanity. This path, Francis explained, is that of life in the midst of death, of peace in the midst of war, of reconciliation in the midst of hatred and of fraternity in the midst of enmity.

Furthermore, Francis expressed concern for migrants, the poorest and those suffering from economic difficulties, calling for solidarity and joint action to face the challenges they face.

A few minutes earlier, Francisco greeted and blessed the almost 60 thousand faithful present in Saint Peter’s Square aboard his “popemobile”. Dressed in white, the head of the Catholic Church arrived in a wheelchair at the altar, decorated as every year with a multitude of floral decorations.

The Pope’s health

Francis’ appearance for the Urbi et Orbi blessing calmed rumors about his health, following his absence from the traditional Via Crucis procession at the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday. Although the Vatican explained that the decision was made by the pontiff himself to protect his health, the removal of his chair from the event platform indicated a sudden change of plans.

At age 87, Pope Francis has faced health challenges, including the removal of part of a lung in his youth and recent surgeries on his large intestine. Despite this, in his recent memoirs, Francis stated that he does not suffer from health problems that would prevent him from continuing his pontificate, demonstrating determination to continue with his projects.

On Friday, the pontiff canceled his participation in the traditional Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum at the last minute, which once again raised the alarm about his health.

The Vatican argued that the decision was taken “to preserve his health before the vigil” of Holy Saturday and “the Mass on Easter Sunday”.

In fact, Francisco officiated on Saturday normally and without signs of tiredness in the two and a half hour ceremony in the presence of 6,000 faithful. He also delivered a ten-minute homily in Italian with no apparent difficulty.

The last-minute cancellation, when the papal chair was already in place in the Colosseum, and the Vatican’s brief communication helped fuel concerns about the pope’s fragile health.

And on more than one occasion, recently, he was forced to delegate the reading of his speeches due to bronchitis. He also canceled the reading of the Palm Sunday homily, without giving any explanation.

Despite a major abdominal operation in 2023, Francis continues with a normal pace of work at the Vatican. However, he has not made any trips since visiting Marseille, in the south of France, in September, and had to cancel his presence at COP28, in December, in Dubai, due to bronchitis.

This summer he is expected to travel to Asia and Oceania, although the Vatican has not formalized the activity so far. This Sunday, however, Indonesia announced that the pope will travel to the archipelago in September.


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