Vatican City

Francis appeals for peace in first Easter message

Pope condemns slavery, overexploitation of nature before 250,000

Francis appeals for peace in first Easter message

(By Paul Virgo) Vatican City, March 31 - Pope Francis appealed for peace in conflict-hit areas of the Middle East and Africa and called for an easing of tensions between North and South Korea before around 250,000 people in his first Easter Sunday message as pontiff. Speaking from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica, where he made his first appearance as pope after being elected Benedict XVI's successor on March 13, Francis called on Israelis and Palestinians to "willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long". He also called for an end to violence in Iraq and Syria. "How much blood has been shed (in Syria)?" he said. "And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?". He made an appeal for disagreements to "be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow" in the Korean peninsula. He pleaded for terrorist groups to stop taking hostages in Nigeria and for an end of conflict in the African continent, singling out the situations in Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Francis also condemned human trafficking, drug trafficking and overexploitation of natural resources in his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world), a papal address and blessing that is given on certain special occasions. "Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century," the 76-year-old Argentine pope said. "Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources. Peace to this our Earth. "May the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation". As part of the Urbi et Orbi, Francis granted a plenary indulgence to all the faithful following the Mass in St Peter's Square and on radio, TV and "new communications media". Easter Sunday commemorates the day of the resurrection of Jesus, making it the most important moment in the Church's liturgical calendar. "What a joy it is for me to announce this message: Christ is risen! I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons," he said. "What does it mean that Jesus is risen? It means that the love of God is stronger than evil and death itself; it means that the love of God can transform our lives and let those desert places in our hearts bloom". Earlier on Sunday, Francis, dressed in simple white vestments, presided over the Easter Mass in the square. He had a ride in an open-top jeep around St Peter's Square between the Mass and the Easter message. He brought some in the crowd to tears when he stopped during the tour to embrace and kiss some babies and disabled people, including one severely disabled boy. Francis's relaxed, humble, off-the-cuff style has contrasted with Benedict's more reserved approach and helped him already become enormously popular among the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. He has also won plaudits for his focus on the weakest and poorest sections of society, as reflected by gestures such as him washing and kissing the feet of 12 juvenile offenders in a Rome detention centre in a Easter ritual Thursday. This seems to have helped the Church to put behind it, at least for the moment, the many problems that to some degree overshadowed the run-up conclave to elect Francis, such as the scandals related to child-sex abuse by priest in various parts of the world. Before Francis, "when we spoke of the Church, we did so without a smile," said Enzo Bianchi, the head of Italy's Bose monastic movement, in Italian daily La Stampa. "Now once again, we can look at the Church with sympathy and restore trust in an institution that appeared to many to be far-removed and hardly trustworthy". Francis, who was elected as pope on March 13 after his predecessor Benedict XVI shocked the world last month by announcing he was stepping down, posted a message on the papal Twitter account before Sunday's Mass. "Accept the risen Jesus into your life," read the post on the @Pontifex account. "Even if you have been far away, take a small step towards him: he awaits you with open arms".

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