ROME — Ukraine hung heavily on Pope Francis’ heart on Sunday as he delivered the annual “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”) message in St. Peter’s Square, in which he called for peace on what he described this year as an “Easter of war.”
Francis, who pleaded a week ago for an Easter truce in Ukraine, spoke to tens of thousands of faithful. It was a far cry from the few hundreds who attended the celebration last year, which was restricted because of the pandemic.
“We have seen all too much blood, all too much violence,” Francis said. “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.” Instead of learning from the heavy toll taken by the pandemic, and emerging with strengthened solidarity, rivalry had prevailed, he said.
He also called on world leaders to bear in mind a troubling question that scientists posed nearly 70 years ago when they raised the specter of nuclear annihilation.
“Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?” Francis asked, citing the so-called Russell-Einstein Manifesto, issued by the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1955 and signed by intellectuals and scientists including Albert Einstein.
Yet the Easter message was one of peace, he said. The Urbi et Orbi traditionally presents a state of global conflicts and Francis called for peace in wars from Yemen, to Syria, to Libya and Afghanistan.
But the war in Ukraine loomed large. It is a country “sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis said as applause filled the square. “In this terrible night of suffering and death, may a new dawn of hope soon appear,” and negotiations lead to peace, he added, urging all people to implore for peace “from our balconies and in our streets” and for world leaders to heed those pleas.
In his heart, Francis said, he held “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 thanked the families and communities that had been welcoming these refuges as well as migrants from different places into their homes.
“Every war brings in its wake consequences that affect the entire human family: from grief and mourning to the drama of refugees, and to the economic and food crisis, the signs of which we are already seeing,” Francis said.
“Faced with the continuing signs of war, as well as the many painful setbacks to life, Jesus Christ, the victor over sin, fear and death, exhorts us not to surrender to evil and violence. May we be won over by the peace of Christ. Peace is possible; peace is a duty; peace is everyone’s primary responsibility.”