During a speech at Easter Mass, Pope Francis appeals for peace in Gaza and Ukraine.

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Pope Francis has recovered from a bout of respiratory problems.

This health problem lasted through the winter to lead around 60,000 people to Easter celebrations on Sunday, making a powerful call for a ceasefire in Gaza and a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

Francis presided over Easter Sunday mass in the flower-decorated Rossio de São Pedro and then offered a heartfelt prayer for silence in his annual summary of global crises. The people of Gaza, including the small local Christian community, have been a source of concern for Francis and Easter in the Holy Land has generally been a somber topic this year due to the war.

“Silence is never made with weapons, but with outstretched hands and open hearts”, said Francisco from the loggia overlooking the Rossio, to the applause of the wind-swept crowd.

Francisco looked in good shape, despite having celebrated the two-and-a-half-hour Easter Vigil just hours earlier. The pontiff, who had a section of his lung removed when he was young, has been battling respiratory problems throughout the winter and his full participation in Easter religious services was not fully guaranteed, especially after missing the traditional Good Friday procession. .

But in a sign that the 87-year-old pontiff was feeling very sorry, he took several laps around the Rossio in his popemobile after Mass, greeting well-wishers.

The Vatican said around 60,000 people attended the mass, with more crowding the Via della Conciliazione avenue leading to the Rossio. At the beginning of the religious service, a gust of wind knocked over a large religious icon on the altar, a few meters from the pope; the doormen quickly corrected this.

Easter Mass is one of the most important dates in the liturgical calendar, celebrating what the faithful believe to be the resurrection of Jesus following his crucifixion. The mass precedes the “Urbi et Orbi” (for the city and the world) blessing, in which the pope traditionally offers a long list of threats afflicting humanity.

This year, Francisco said that his thoughts are particularly directed to people in Ukraine and Gaza and to all those facing war, especially children who, according to him, “have forgotten how to smile”.

“By resorting to reverence for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a universal exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for everyone’s sake!” he said.

He called for the “immediate” release of prisoners taken from Israel on October 7, a sudden ceasefire in Gaza and humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinians.

“Let us not allow the current hostilities to continue to have serious repercussions on the social population, currently at the limit of its resistance, and especially on children”, he said in a presentation that also addressed the situation of Haitians. the Rohingya and victims of human trafficking.

In recent weeks, Francis has generally avoided giving long speeches to avoid breathing effort. He abandoned his Palm Sunday homily last week and decided at the last minute to remain at the mansion during the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum.

The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was taken to “preserve his health.”

The decision clearly paid off, as Francis was able to recite the prayers of the long Easter Vigil service on Saturday night, including administering the sacraments of baptism and the First Society to eight new Catholics, and preside at Easter Sunday Mass and deliver your exposure.

Francis was not the only leader whose mere presence at Easter offered a reassuring sign of steadfastness and normalcy.

In Britain, King Charles III joined the Queen and other members of the royal family for an Easter service at Windsor Fortress, in his most significant public outing since being diagnosed with cancer last month.

The king waved happily to spectators as he entered St. George’s Chapel and then spent time shaking hands and greeting well-wishers following the service. “You are very brave to stay here indifferently,” Charles told them.

But things were anything but normal in Jerusalem, where Easter mass came and went at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Only a few dozen worshipers attended the service as the Israel-Hamas war continued in Gaza.

The medieval church in the Old Town is the sacred site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

In recent years, the church has been packed with worshipers and tourists. But the bloody conflict in Gaza, now in its sixth month, has caused a huge downturn in tourism and pilgrimages in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The streets of the old city were also absent of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank, who normally flock to the city at Easter. Since the conflict broke out, Palestinian faithful in the territory occupied by Israel have needed private authorization to pass checkpoints in Jerusalem.

Pope Francis renews calls for “Israel-Hamas ceasefire on all fronts” in annual presentation to diplomats.

In Gaza, the situation was even bleaker. Only a few dozen Palestinian Christians celebrated Easter Mass at the Holy Family Church in Gaza City, but there was not much to celebrate.

“This doesn’t feel like Easter like it does in other times,” said Winnie Tarazi, a Christian from Gaza City. “It’s because we are here deprived of our homes, our belongings, our children and everything else. We lost our family among those who fled, those who stayed and those who were destroyed.”

The feeling was similar in the city of Bethlehem, in the West Bank, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, where only a few dozen people attended mass at the Church of the Nativity.

“There is no holiday atmosphere and there is no joyful atmosphere this year,” said George Kanawati, a resident of Belém. “Holidays lack joy and children’s smiles, which the occupation always tries to extinguish and kill that smile.”

The Gaza situation was also a concern in New York, where police arrested three people who disrupted the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan on Saturday. They held up a ribbon reading “Silence = Death” at the altar and shouted “Free Palestine” as they were escorted out, police said.

But in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, where 10 years ago the Islamic State group killed and displaced thousands of Iraqi minorities, hundreds of people celebrated Easter in a region that has had a Christian presence since Jesus Station. Iraq’s Christian community, once numbering around 1.5 million people, now numbers at most a few hundred thousand, but they came in droves for Easter.

“We will definitely hold on to this ground and remain here until the term, and hope for a change,” said Nassar Mubarak, who attended Easter mass at the Immaculate Conception church in Qaraqosh.

Source: globalnews

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