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In Easter message, pope warns against the spread of conflict

Pope Francis waves at the end of his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on April 16, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

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.”

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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.

A faithful holds a rosary as she attends the Easter Mass led by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on April 16, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

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.

Nuns attend the Easter Mass led by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on April 16, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

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.

RELATED: A Good Friday peace walk remembers victims of Chicago violence

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.

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • Much of the conflict around the world is due to human overpopulation and consequent environmental degradation and climate change. Pope Francis could help matters simply by rescinding the Vatican’s outdated, harmful opposition to contraception and abortion. And the buffoon in the Offal Office could help by reversing his stupid cutoff of US support for international family planning. After all, it was a Republican president, Gerald Ford, who signed the 1975 National Security Study Memorandum 200 report recommending universal access to contraception and abortion. — Edd Doerr

  • One would think the self-proclaimed leader of Christianity would call the world to defend Christians being killed by radicalized Muslim terrorist throughout the world.

  • Makes sense to me. Kill the innocent unborn rather than holding accountable those who orchestrate conflict.

  • SoS doesn’t get it. Overpopulation fuels violence and climate change. Universal access to contraception and abortion is a large part of the answer. Oh, and pre-28 week fetuses are not persons, so abortion is not murder. — ED

  • A lot of things don’t go as planned but nothing has happened by accident for centuries.

    Albert Pike’s letter to Mazzini, dated August 15, 1871:

    “The First World War must be brought about in order to permit the Illuminati to overthrow the power of the Czars in Russia and of making that country a fortress of atheistic Communism. The divergences caused by the “agentur” (agents) of the Illuminati between the British and Germanic Empires will be used to foment this war. At the end of the war, Communism will be built and used in order to destroy the other governments and in order to weaken the religions.”

    “The Second World War must be fomented by taking advantage of the differences between the Fascists and the political Zionists. This war must be brought about so that Nazism is destroyed and that the political Zionism be strong enough to institute a sovereign state of Israel in Palestine. During the Second World War, International Communism must become strong enough in order to balance Christendom, which would be then restrained and held in check until the time when we would need it for the final social cataclysm.”

    “The Third World War must be fomented by taking advantage of the differences caused by the “agentur” of the “Illuminati” between the political Zionists and the leaders of Islamic World. The war must be conducted in such a way that Islam (the Moslem Arabic World) and political Zionism (the State of Israel) mutually destroy each other. Meanwhile the other nations, once more divided on this issue will be constrained to fight to the point of complete physical, moral, spiritual and economical exhaustion…We shall unleash the Nihilists and the atheists, and we shall provoke a formidable social cataclysm which in all its horror will show clearly to the nations the effect of absolute atheism, origin of savagery and of the most bloody turmoil. Then everywhere, the citizens, obliged to defend themselves against the world minority of revolutionaries, will exterminate those destroyers of civilization, and the multitude, disillusioned with Christianity, whose deistic spirits will from that moment be without compass or direction, anxious for an ideal, but without knowing where to render its adoration, will receive the true light through the universal manifestation of the pure doctrine of Lucifer, brought finally out in the public view. This manifestation will result from the general reactionary movement which will follow the destruction of Christianity and atheism, both conquered and exterminated at the same time.”

    Albert Pike was a Satanist and Pope Francis is an anti-pope.

  • The pope has no influence over what happens in Muslim countries. Are they overpopulated? What should Muslim leaders do about overpopulation? Or is this an issue you prefer to avoid since you’re afraid of being called racist or Islamophobic by folks on your side of the political issue?

    Is the United States overpopulated? If so, then you should support immigration restrictions and bans just like the liberal Sierra Club.

  • I am fully aware of the claim that a fetus is not “a person”. Human ability to dehumanize other human beings continues by those who have power over those who have none and find the other inconvenient. In this case you can depersonalize the perfect powerless person who is utterly defenseless an incapable of fighting back.

  • In supporting every women’s right to decide for herself whether or not to continue a problem pregnancy supports HER personalization but does not alter the fact that while a fetus is human, it is not a person with the same rights as the woman. SoS may follow his conscience but he should respect the rights of conscience and religious liberty of all women. — Edd Doerr

  • If overpopulation is a problem, then you should oppose in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and surrogate motherhood.

    It’s tragic that couples (or single women) can’t conceive a blob of tissue, fetus, or unborn child but isn’t it better if they adopt a baby or child who is already born?

    Of course, you probably don’t believe that women should be allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to own firearms. Why should anyone’s safety depend on 911 response times?

  • Muslim leaders ( and all religious leaders) should be concerned about overpopulation and should be pushed to recognize every women’s right to free access to contraception and abortion.

  • In vitro fertilization and surrogacy should be left to the individual woman. Overall, however, it is human overpopulation that is fueling human caused climate change. All who oppose universal access to contraception and abortion are contributing to the destruction of our planet.

  • But if they contribute to overpopulation, then one should oppose them.

    The Church will not support behavior that it believes to be sinful and could jeopardize a person’s eternal life. That’s its mission.

    A century ago, I’m sure you would have been among progressives who were upset that the Catholic bishops in the United States dared to oppose Prohibition (supported by feminists, Unitarians, and liberal Christian Century), eugenics, compulsory sterilization for the feeble-minded, state planning, socialism, pacificism (as opposed to the “just war” tradition), and, of course, the new Soviet “experiment” in Russia. (Rabbi Stephen Wise supported eugenics and compulsory sterilization in the 1920s but then changed his mind for some strange reason in the 1930s.)

  • If contraception is so full proof, then why do you need abortion?

    It’s not about saving the world. It’s about Big Business. There’s a lot of money in contraception and abortion.

    Your friend Paul Blanshard hated using condoms, as he wrote in his autobiography and expressed thanks for the Pill. Of course, the pill doesn’t block STD transmissions. In a letter to his brother–which I found in the Brand Blanshard Papers at Yale–Paul, in the early 1930s, wrote about developing testicular lumps that was wrongly diagnosed as tuberculosis. In fact, his symptons are more consistent with an STD (or venereal disease). The collection is where I learned that Corliss’ cash kept the Humanist from going under. I also recall one or two favorable references to you.

  • “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” — Napoleon (Orwell, Animal Farm)