VATICAN CITY (AP) â On Christianityâs most joyful day, Pope Francis called for peace in a world marked by war and conflict, âbeginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syriaâ and extending to Israel, where 15 Palestinians were killed on the Israeli-Gaza border two days before Easter Sunday.
Francis reflected on the power of Christianityâs core belief â that Jesus rose from the dead following crucifixion â in his formal âUrbi et Orbiâ Easter message delivered from the balcony of St. Peterâs Basilica to a packed square of some 80,000 faithful below.
âIt bears fruits of hope and dignity where there are deprivation and exclusion, hunger and unemployment; where there are migrants and refugees, so often rejected by todayâs culture of waste, and victims of the drug trade, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery,â the pope said.
The pope also urged reconciliation in Israel, a place âexperiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenceless.â His remarks followed the Friday deaths of Palestinian protesters who charged toward Gazaâs border with Israel, the areaâs deadliest violence in four years.
The pope also urged more steps to bring harmony to divided Ukraine, called for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and appealed for the world not to forget victims of conflict, especially children.
âMay there be no lack of solidarity with all those forced to leave their native lands and lacking the bare essentials for living,â said Francis, who has often championed the cause of migrants and refugees.
Earlier, tens of thousands of faithful underwent heavy security checks to enter St. Peterâs Square to participate in Easter Sunday Mass celebrated by the pope, followed by his âUrbi et Orbiâ message (âto the city and the world.â)
Security precautions included bag checks and metal detector wands for everyone entering the square, while the main avenue leading to the Vatican, as well as smaller adjoining streets, were closed to traffic.
Elsewhere, hundreds of Christians marked Easter by flocking to Jerusalemâs Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where they believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.