VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis used his traditional Easter Sunday message to call the bombing of a refugee convoy near Aleppo, Syria, a “despicable attack” and urged world leaders to “prevent the spread of conflicts” despite mounting tensions in Syria and North Korea.
In his Easter blessing known as “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”), the pope urged the faithful to remember “all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes.”
But in an impassioned plea for justice and peace, Francis singled out Saturday’s (April 15) deadly attack that killed around 100 refugees, including children, in Syria. A vehicle filled with explosives struck the bus convoy from government-held towns near Aleppo.
In his message to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, the pope asked God to “support the efforts of those who are actively engaged in bringing healing and comfort to the civilians of beloved Syria, the victim of a war that does not cease to cause horror and death.
“Yesterday’s was the latest despicable attack on fleeing refugees, that resulted in the death and injury of many,” he said.
With mounting concerns following a chemical attack in Syria and the U.S. missile strike response, as well as North Korea’s missile tests, the pontiff also warned against escalation.
“In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the Risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace. May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade,” he said.
Francis delivered his blessing after celebrating Mass before a crowd of pilgrims amid colorful pageantry and heightened security in a St. Peter’s Square that was filled with spring flowers.
Roads around the Vatican were closed and armed police were deployed on rooftops as police used metal detectors at various checkpoints to check bags and backpacks.
Security was stepped up in central Rome for Holy Week activities following the twin Palm Sunday attacks that killed more than 45 people in Coptic churches in Egypt.
In his address the 80-year-old pontiff spoke out against the “grave famine” affecting South Sudan and other African countries, called for “bridges of dialogue” in Latin America and “social harmony” in Ukraine.
Earlier the pope Tweeted: “Today is the celebration of our hope.”
Sunday also marked the 90th birthday of former Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world in 2013 when he became the first pope to resign in 600 years, leading to the election of Pope Francis.
Vatican officials said Benedict was planning a modest celebration with his elder brother, Georg Ratzinger, and others who were traveling from his native Bavaria.