VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis urged the world to resist “the logic of weapons” in his Easter message at the Vatican on Sunday, easing growing health fears as he greeted thousands of Catholics.

The 87-year-old’s “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) blessing came after he led Easter Mass in front of 60,000 worshippers at Saint Peter’s Square while appearing in good spirits.

In his traditional speech broadcasted worldwide, Francis condemned war as “always an absurdity and a defeat”, raising conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, Myanmar and beyond.

He renewed appeals for a ceasefire in Gaza, calling for greater aid deliveries to the devastated territory and the release of prisoners by Hamas. The civilian population is “now at the limit of its endurance”, he said, lamenting the impact on children especially.

“Let us not allow the strengthening winds of war to blow on Europe and the Mediterranean. Let us not yield to the logic of weapons and rearming,” he added.

The pope proposed a “general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine” as the war between the two countries grinds through its third year.

He also urged world leaders to “spare no efforts in combatting the scourge of human trafficking” to free its victims.

Moments before the blessing, Francis passed through the adoring crowd on his “popemobile” as pilgrims shouted “Long live the pope!”, waved flags and strained to take pictures.

Health concerns

Earlier on Saturday, the pope presided over the Easter Vigil at the Vatican in front of some 6,000 people from across the world, a day after his last-minute cancellation at a major Good Friday procession revived questions about his health.

He condemned “the walls of selfishness and indifference” in the world. At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour service, he showed little sign of fatigue, taking time to greet and bless some of the worshippers.

In a brief statement on Friday, the Vatican had said that “to preserve his health ahead of tomorrow’s vigil and the Easter Sunday mass, Pope Francis will this evening follow the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum from the Santa Marta Residence”, where he lives.

Francis, who never takes holidays, made his last trip in September, to the southern French city of Marseille.

In December, he cancelled a much-anticipated attendance at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2024

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