VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In his Urbi et Orbi address on Sunday (April 17), Pope Francis, who had called for an Easter ceasefire in Ukraine, made yet another impassioned appeal for an end to the fighting, urging leaders to demand peace “from our balconies and in our streets.”
Ukrainian flags filled St. Peter’s Square, and among the audience of about 100,000 was a delegation of Ukrainian officials.
“Please, let us not get used to war! Let us all commit ourselves to imploring peace, from our balconies and in our streets! May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace,” he said.
Sunday’s Urbi et Orbi, normally delivered on Easter and Christmas, was the first since the beginning of the pandemic to be given to a live audience. Two years ago, Francis stood alone in the rainy square as the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic rose and reminded a remote audience of the importance of coming together.
But today, instead of coming together, nations and people have drifted farther apart, the pope said on Sunday (April 17).
“We emerged from two years of pandemic, which took a heavy toll. It was time to come out of the tunnel together, hand in hand, pooling our strength and resources,” Francis said. Bemoaning the conflict in Ukraine, he said the world has chosen instead to embrace what he called “the spirit of Cain,” a reference to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain in the Bible.
Amid this “Easter of war,” the pope said, “we need the crucified and risen Lord so that we can believe in the victory of love, and hope for reconciliation.”
The pope asked for peace in Ukraine, “so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged.” He emphasized the need for “a decision for peace,” to replace “the flexing of muscles while people are suffering.”
Francis reflected on the many victims, children, refugees and the elderly whose lives have been uprooted by war not only in Ukraine, but also in the Middle East and in Africa. The pope has long warned of a third world war fought “in pieces,” in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan.
Francis also took note of the violence that broke out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem in the days leading up to Easter. He prayed that “Israelis, Palestinians and all who dwell in the Holy City, together with the pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, dwell in fraternity and enjoy free access to the Holy Places in mutual respect for the rights of each.”
The pope made an appeal for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he will be visiting in early July along with the struggling young country of South Sudan. Francis also addressed the “crime, violence, corruption and drug trafficking” in Latin America, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Looking forward to his trip to Canada in July, where he is expected to meet with Indigenous groups who visited the Vatican last month, Francis spoke on Sunday about the mistreatment of Indigenous children in the country’s Catholic residential schools, describing his trip as “a journey of reconciliation.”
“Faced with the continuing signs of war, as well as the many painful setbacks to life, Jesus Christ, the victor over sin, fear and death, exhorts us not to surrender to evil and violence,” the pope concluded. “May we be won over by the peace of Christ! Peace is possible; peace is a duty; peace is everyone’s primary responsibility.”