LONDON – In the first Easter message of his pontificate, Pope Francis appealed to Christians and others Sunday to turn “war into peace” in parts of the world caught in seemingly intractable conflict, from the Middle East to the Korean peninsula.
The first pontiff from the Americas expressed concern for victims of those crises, asking “how much suffering” would have to be endured before the bloodshed in Syria ceased, praying for reconciliation between North and South Korea, and condemning violence in parts of Africa.
“We ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace,” said the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. “Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.”
PHOTOS: Pope Francis celebrates Easter
The pope’s comments, addressed to 250,000 pilgrims massed in St. Peter’s Square and beamed to millions more across the globe, came during his observance of the most important festival on the Christian calendar. It was Francis’ biggest public event since he was named pontiff less than three weeks ago.
The Easter celebration and the activities leading up to it showed that the 76-year-old Argentine remains intent on stamping a very different style on the pontificate from that of his predecessor, the retired Benedict XVI. Francis has insisted on employing a common touch and showing a humility and egalitarianism in keeping with his background as a Jesuit priest living among the people rather than as a spiritual superior cloaked in churchly ritual and splendor.
The Easter Mass before his message was shortened at his direction from its usual three-hour length. The crowds cheered as Francis zipped around St. Peter’s Square in his open-topped Popemobile and stopped to kiss babies and greet well-wishers.
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“Happy Easter! Happy Easter!” Francis said at the beginning of his homily, exuding the homespun warmth for which he has already become known.
But conservatives within the church have begun exhibiting alarm at his departure from some traditions. On Thursday, he washed and kissed the feet of people in imitation of Jesus’ act of humbleness toward his 12 disciples before his crucifixion. But those receiving the pope’s ministrations were inmates at a juvenile detention center and included Muslims and two women, raising the hackles of traditionalists who say Jesus deliberately chose only men as his disciples, the foundation of the church’s male-only priesthood.
The pope has made clear that social justice and protection of the environment will be hallmarks of his papacy, reflecting the ministry of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint whose name he adopted as his own.
The pontiff described society as “still divided by greed looking for easy gain [and] wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family.” He deplored the “iniquitous exploitation of natural resources.
Besides urging an end to turmoil in Syria and on the Korean peninsula, Francis prayed for peace in Iraq, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and between Israelis and Palestinians.
And he thanked the Dutch florists who provided the flowers that brightened St. Peter’s Square under the gray clouds that migrated across the sky.