Pope delights exuberant crowd with Easter Mass plea for peace

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Pope Francis delivered a plea for peace in his first Easter Sunday message to the world, decrying seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula after celebrating Mass along with more than 250,000 people in flower-bedecked St Peter’s Square.

Francis shared in his flock’s exuberance as they celebrated Christianity’s core belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead following crucifixion. After Mass, he stepped aboard an open-topped white popemobile for a cheerful spin through the joyous crowd, kissing babies and patting children on the head.

One admirer of both the pope and of the pontiff’s favourite football team, Argentina’s Saints of San Lorenzo, insisted that Francis take a team jersey he was waving at the pontiff. A delighted Francis obliged, briefly holding up the shirt, and the crowd roared.

Francis has repeatedly put concern for the poor and suffering at the centre of his messages, and he pursued his promotion of the causes of peace and social justice in the Easter speech delivered from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, the same place from where he was introduced to the world as the first Latin American pope on March 13.

He said he was joyfully aiming his Easter greetings, at “every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons”. Francis prayed that Jesus would inspire people to “change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace”.

In his softly and slowly delivered speech, Francis defined Easter as an “exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness”.

As popes before him have, he urged Israelis and Palestinians, who “struggle to find the road of agreement” to find the courage to resume peace talks and end a conflict that “has lasted all too long”. And, in reflecting on the two-year-old Syrian crisis, Francis asked: “How much suffering must there still be before a political solution” can be found?

The pope also expressed desire for a “spirit of reconciliation” on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea says it has entered “a state of war” with South Korea. He also decried violence in Africa, where he singled out for condemnation terrorists’ hostage-taking, as well as strife in Mali and warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Central African Republican, which has driven people from their homes.

The first pontiff to come from the Jesuits, an order with special concern for the poor, and the first to name himself after St Francis, a medieval figure who renounced wealth to preach to the down-and-out, Francis lamented that the world is “still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threats human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century”.

Earlier, wearing cream-coloured vestments, he celebrated Mass on the esplanade in front of the basilica at an altar set up under a white canopy. He frequently bowed his head as if in silent reflection.

He also advised people to let love transform their lives, or as he put it: “let those desert places in our hearts bloom”.

The Vatican had prepared a list of brief Easter greetings in 65 languages, but Francis did not read them. The Vatican did not say why, but has said that the new pope, at least for now, is growing comfortable in his new role using Italian. Francis also has stressed his role as a pastor to his flock, and, as bishop of Rome, Italian would be his language.

He so far has declined to move into predecessor Benedict’s former apartment and is still in the Vatican hotel where he and fellow voting cardinals checked in on March 12, the day before they chose him in a secret conclave.

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