Pope Francis presides over Easter Sunday Mass, calls for cease-fires in Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine conflicts

Francis, 87, had skipped a Good Friday ceremony to preserve his health.

March 31, 2024, 3:57 AM

ROME and LONDON -- Pope Francis on Sunday presided over an Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square and later used his Easter message on Christianity's holiest day to invoke prayers for victims of war and to call for an end to ongoing conflicts.

Francis delivered his Easter message and blessing -- the Urbi et Orbi, or "to the city and the world" blessing -- that also included a call for the return of hostages and prisoners of war.

"Jesus alone opens up before us the doors of life, those doors that continually we shut with the wars spreading throughout the world," he said, speaking in Italian.

He said his "thoughts go especially to the victims" of ongoing conflicts, including the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Pope Francis attends the Easter Mass at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 31, 2024.
Remo Casilli/Reuters

"I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza, and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on 7 October last and for an immediate cease-fire in the Strip," he said.

Speaking at the Vatican after concelebrating the mass with about 350 cardinals, bishops and priests, Francis called for an exchange of prisoners in the Russia-Ukraine war. He called for an end to fighting in other conflicts, including those in Haiti, Syria and elsewhere.

"On this day when we celebrate the life given us in the resurrection of the Son, let us remember the infinite love of God for each of us: a love that overcomes every limit and every weakness," he said.

He said he hoped for peace between Israel and Lebanon, as well as between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And he said leaders in the Western Balkans should seek "enrichment" from their differences as some in the region move closer "towards integration in the European project."

A general view of St. Peter's Square ahead of the Easter Mass attended by Pope Francis, at the Vatican, March 31, 2024.
Remo Casilli/Reuters

The pontiff also asked for peace throughout Africa, noting the ongoing fighting "in Sudan and in the entire region of the Sahel, in the Horn of Africa, in the region of Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the province of Capo Delgado in Mozambique."

He asked God to "bring an end to the prolonged situation of drought which affects vast areas and provokes famine and hunger" in the horn of Africa.

Francis, 87, had arrived in St. Peter's Square on Sunday two days after he skipped the Way of the Cross procession on Good Friday. He skipped that ceremony "to preserve his health" so that he'd be able to attend the Easter Saturday vigil and Sunday Mass and blessing, the Vatican press office said in a statement on Friday.

Francis has been battling breathing difficulties after a cold and flu this year, but papal Easter ceremonies are a test for a young man.

Sunday's Mass, commemorating the day Cristians believe Jesus Christ was resurrected, began at 10 a.m. with the pope seated in the square in front of the altar. He stood to introduce the mass, then sat during much of the proceedings. In front of him, tens of thousands of worshipers filled the Vatican’s main square under a mostly overcast sky.

Pope Francis attends the Easter Mass, at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 31, 2024.
Yara Nardi/Reuters

The pontiff followed Sunday's Mass with a tour of Saint Peter's Square in a white open-topped vehicle. He appeared relaxed and in good spirits as he waved to the throngs of faithful, many of which called out to him as he passed.

Moments later, the pope imparted his Urbi et Orbi blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter’s façade.

"Why? Why all this death? Why all this destruction? War is always an absurdity and a defeat!" he said. "Let us not allow the strengthening winds of war to blow on Europe and the Mediterranean. Let us not yield to the logic of weapons and rearming. Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts."