By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis implicitly criticised Russia for dragging Ukraine into a “cruel and senseless” conflict and urged leaders to strive for peace as he marked what he called an “Easter of war” on Sunday.
The 85-year-old pope made the comments in his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address – traditionally an overview of world conflicts – to about 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square.
It was the first Easter since 2019 that the public was allowed into the square to hear the twice-yearly address following two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
Francis dedicated much of the message to Ukraine, comparing the shock of another war in Europe to the shock of the apostles when the gospel says they saw the risen Jesus.
“Our eyes, too, are incredulous on this Easter of war. We have seen all too much blood, all too much violence. Our hearts, too, have been filled with fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing,” he said.
“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” he said.
Moscow describes the action it launched on Feb. 24 as a “special military operation”.
Francis, who did not mention Russia by name, has already rejected that terminology, calling it a war and previously using terms such as unjustified aggression and invasion.
“Let there be a decision for peace. May there be an end to the flexing of muscles while people are suffering,” Francis said on Sunday, going on to thank those who had taken in refugees from Ukraine, most of whom have gone to Poland.
Earlier this month in Malta, Francis implicitly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion, saying a “potentate” was fomenting conflict for nationalist interests.
Francis again raised the spectre of the war leading to a nuclear conflict, something he has spoken of several times since the Russian invasion began.
This time, he quoted the 1955 manifesto by philosopher Bertrand Russell and physicist Albert Einstein: “Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?”
Francis, who suffers from leg pain, appeared comfortable during the long Mass that preceded the “Urbi et Orbi” address, and then toured the crowd in the square and a nearby street while sitting in an open white pope mobile.
Afterwards, he read most of the address from the balcony sitting down, standing only at the start and for the final blessing.
On Saturday night, he attended but did not preside at an Easter vigil service, apparently to rest up for Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar.
“Please, let us not get used to war,” Francis said, looking down on the square bedecked by tens of thousands of flowers donated by the Netherlands.
“Let us all commit ourselves to imploring peace, from our balconies and in our streets. May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace.”
“I hold in my heart all the many Ukrainian victims, the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, the divided families, the elderly left to themselves, the lives broken and the cities razed to the ground,” he said.
He also called for reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians and among the people of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he is due to visit in July.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Helen Popper)