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Thursday, April 25, 2024  
16 Shawwal 1445  

Pope Francis, in Easter address, calls for Gaza ceasefire

Pontiff presided over Mass in a packed and flower-bedecked St Peter's Square
Pope Francis greets faithful on the day of the Easter Mass at St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, March 31, 2024. Reuters
Pope Francis greets faithful on the day of the Easter Mass at St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, March 31, 2024. Reuters

Pope Francis called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all Israeli hostages in an Easter Sunday address that marked the most important day on the Christian calendar by deploring the suffering caused by wars.

The pontiff presided over Mass in a packed and flower-bedecked St Peter’s Square, and then delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing and message from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.

Francis, 87, has been in poor health in recent weeks, forcing him on repeated occasions to limit his public speaking and cancel engagements as he did on Good Friday, skipping at short notice a procession at Rome’s Colosseum.

However, he took part in other Holy Week events leading up to Easter, and appeared in relatively good spirits on Sunday. Easter celebrates the day in which the faithful believe Jesus rose from the dead.

After the service, Francis took to his open-topped popemobile to greet crowds in the square and the avenue connecting St Peter’s to the River Tiber. The Vatican said about 60,000 people had turned up.

‘Why all this death?’

Francis has repeatedly deplored the death and destruction in the Gaza war and he renewed his call for a ceasefire on Sunday.

“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 last October 7 and for an immediate ceasefire in the Strip,” he said in his Urbi et Orbi address.

“How much suffering we see in the eyes of children, the children have forgotten to smile in those war zones. With their eyes, children ask us: Why? Why all this death? Why all this destruction? War is always an absurdity and a defeat”, he added.

The pope’s Easter message traditionally focuses on world affairs, and he mentioned other flashpoints, including Ukraine, Syria, Lebanon, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan, the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions, Congo and Mozambique.

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After asking Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi last year to mediate the repatriatian of Ukrainian children from Russia and Russian-occupied territories, Francis called for “a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine”.

He also condemned human trafficking and prayed for “a path of hope” for those suffering from violence, hunger and the effects of climate change, as well as consolation for “the victims of terrorism in all its forms”.

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