1 of 7 | Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican.on Sunday, April 9, 2023. Pope Francis invoked prayers for both the Ukrainian and Russian people. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI | License Photo
April 9 (UPI) -- Pope Francis delivered a message Easter Sunday encouraging peace between warring nations and comforting refugees, deportees and political prisoners across the world.
The 86-year-old pontiff, recovering from bronchitis, first celebrated mass at St. Peter's Basilica before greeting the crowd of more than 100,000 people from the popemobile. He then delivered the "Urbi at Orbi" message from the central loggia surrounded by flowers donated by florists from the Netherlands.
During the message, Francis prayed for peace for the "beloved Ukrainian people," according to Vatican News -- the press arm of the Holy See. He also said that he hoped the "light" of Easter would "shine on the people of Russia." A full text of the speech was published by the Catholic World Report.
Easter is the high feast of Catholicism and Christianity worldwide, celebrating the rebirth of Jesus after his crucifixion under the orders of Roman governor Pontius Pilate and signifying absolution from sin for humanity. Francis' remarks on Russia appeared to hint at the concepts of sin and absolution.
"Comfort the wounded and all those who have lost loved ones because of the war, and grant that prisoners may return safe and sound to their families," Francis said as he prayed at the end of his message.
"Open the hearts of the entire international community to strive to end this war and all conflict and bloodshed in our world, beginning with Syria, which still awaits peace."
Francis also prayed for the people of Turkey and Syria affected by devastating earthquakes in February, including those left homeless by the disaster.
The pontiff also prayed for a resolution between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, a city considered holy for all three Abrahamic religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam. While Christians celebrate Easter, Muslims are celebrating the month of Ramadan and Jews are celebrating Passover.
On Saturday, Israel claimed that Muslims who barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem while celebrating Ramadan are a "dangerous mob" as Israeli officials again prepared to raid the holy site.
Tensions in the Middle East have been rising after Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque last week, assaulting Palestinian worshippers and forcing them out to allow Israelis inside.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is located at the Temple Mount, the highly contested holy site for Muslims, Jews and Christians. The site is under the management of the government of Jordan and Jewish religious law prevents visiting the site.
"May there be a resumption of dialogue, in a climate of trust and reciprocal respect, between Israelis and Palestinians, so that peace may reign in the Holy City and in the entire region," Francis said.
He also prayed for Lebanon, a country in the Middle East bordering Israel and Jordan. Last week, Israel struck Lebanon with missiles in an escalation of tensions after the raid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
"Be mindful of the beloved people of Tunisia, and in particular the young and those suffering from social and economic hardship, so that they may not lose hope and may work together to build a future of peace and fraternity," the pope added in his prayer.
"Turn your gaze to Haiti, which has long experienced a grave social, economic and humanitarian crisis, and support the efforts of political actors and the international community to seek a definitive solution to the many problems that afflict that sorely tried people."
Near the end of his prayer, the pope also called for reconciliation in Ethiopia and South Sunday and an "end to the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo."
"Help Myanmar to pursue paths of peace, and enlighten the hearts of leaders, so that the deeply afflicted Rohingya may encounter justice," Francis said.
"Comfort refugees, deportees, political prisoners and migrants, especially those who are most vulnerable, as well as the victims of hunger, poverty and the dire effects of the drug trade, human trafficking and all other forms of slavery."