ROME — On what he described this year as an “Easter of war,” Pope Francis spoke to tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square about the “fear and anguish” evoked by the conflict in Ukraine, adding that he hoped news of suffering in Europe would also make people more mindful of similar situations elsewhere.
Francis celebrated emerging from two years of pandemic, during which he had delivered his Easter message under coronavirus restrictions, even as he acknowledged that the solidarity he had sought as a legacy of the crisis had not prevailed.
But it was events in Ukraine that weighed most heavily on the annual address “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”). The country had been “sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis said. At those words, applause erupted in the square. “Let there be a decision for peace. May there be an end to the flexing of muscles while people are suffering,” the pope added.
Peace was possible, a duty and everyone’s primary responsibility, Francis concluded, urging people to shout that message “from our balconies and in our streets” and for world leaders to heed the call.
He also alluded to the specter of potential nuclear conflict, quoting a manifesto on the dangers of new weapons of mass destruction issued by the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1955 and signed by intellectuals and scientists including Albert Einstein: “Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?”
The message and blessing, given on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, which traditionally includes pleas for peace to conflicts the world over, was delivered after the Mass on the steps of the basilica. Some 100,000 people were present in the square, overflowing into an adjacent avenue, according to the Vatican. It was a far cry from the few hundreds that attended the celebration last year.
The conflict in Europe, Francis said, should make people “more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and sorrow.”
He cited “years of conflict and division” in the Middle East. Just days after violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli riot police officers in Jerusalem that left 150 injured, Francis prayed that “Israelis, Palestinians and all who dwell in the Holy City, together with the pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, dwell in fraternity and enjoy free access to the Holy Places in mutual respect for the rights of each.”
Francis called for peace in Libya so it could find “stability after years of tension,” and for Yemen, “which suffers from a conflict forgotten by all, with continuous victims.” He called for an end to the “hatred and violence” in Myanmar and cited the “tragic humanitarian crisis” in Afghanistan “bringing great suffering to its people” as well as struggles in African countries.
“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.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
On the ground. Russia is moving forces to eastern Ukraine and pounding military targets across the country, as both sides prepare for a new offensive in the east. In Mariupol, Russia warned that the remaining Ukrainian fighters holding out at a steel plant would be “eliminated” if they did not surrender.
A blow to Russian forces. The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet suffered severe damage that forced the crew to abandon it; it subsequently sank. U.S. officials later confirmed that a Ukrainian missile strike was responsible.
Europe drafts oil ban. European Union officials said they were drafting the most contested measure yet to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine: an embargo on Russian oil products. The bloc has long resisted such a ban because of its dependence on Russian energy sources.
A boost to NATO. Finland and Sweden are considering applying for membership in the alliance. Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, said Moscow would be forced to “seriously strengthen” its defenses in the Baltics if the two countries were to join.
Francis pleaded last week for an Easter truce in Ukraine, and he has called frequently for the end to the war there, which this week he decried as blasphemous and an “outrage against God.” His comments have not cited President Vladimir V. Putin by name, an omission that has drawn criticism, though during a visit to Malta this month, Francis laid blame for the war on a “potentate sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests.”
The pope has repeatedly called for humanitarian corridors, as well as sending envoys — two of his closest collaborators — to Ukraine to show his closeness to the Ukrainian people, and he said earlier this month that he might visit Kyiv himself.
On Sunday, he said that he held the “many Ukrainian victims” in his heart, referring to “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.” The faces of the orphaned children fleeing from the war in Ukraine, he said, reflected the same pain as “those other children who suffer throughout our world: those dying of hunger or lack of medical care, those who are victims of abuse and violence, and those denied the right to be born.”
The Easter message is one of peace, Francis said, adding that it was especially welcome amid circumstances like these. “Let us allow the peace of Christ to enter our lives, our homes, our countries,” he said.