By Orowo Victoria Ojieh
Francis, marking what he called an “Easter of war,” has urged leaders to hear the people’s plea for peace in Ukraine and absolutely criticised Russia for dragging the small country into a “cruel and senseless” conflict.
The Pontiff made the comments in his annual “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address. Addressing a crowded Saint Peter’s Square of about 100,000 people on Easter Sunday after two years of muted celebration due to pandemic and Covid-19 restrictions in Italy.
He dedicated much of the message to Ukraine, comparing the shock of another war in Europe to the shock of the apostles when the gospel says they saw the risen Jesus, The Trumpet gathered.
“Our eyes, too, are incredulous on this Easter of war. 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”.
“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” he said. Moscow describes the action it launched on Ukraine on Feb. 24 as a “special military operation”. Francis, who did not mention Russia by name, has already rejected that terminology, calling it a war and previously using terms such as unjustified aggression and invasion.
“Let there be a decision for peace. May there be an end to the flexing of muscles while people are suffering,” Francis said. He also thanked those who had taken in refugees from Ukraine, most of whom have gone to Poland.
The 85-year-old pontiff urged, “Please, let us not get used to war! Let us all commit ourselves to imploring peace, from our balconies and in our streets.
May the leaders of nations hear people’s plea for peace “ The Pope said he holds in his heart “all 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.
“I see the faces of the orphaned children fleeing from the war.” Earlier this month in Malta, Francis implicitly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion, saying a “potentate” was fomenting conflict for nationalist interests.
The UN said almost 2,000 civilians have died during the seven-week conflict, with thousands more soldiers estimated to have been killed on either side.
The war has left Ukrainian cities in awful humanitarian crises and led to allegations of war crimes against Russian forces. Francis also called for free access to Jerusalem’s holy sites for all worshippers and pilgrims in Jerusalem to “dwell in fraternity and enjoy free access to the holy places in mutual respect”.
His plea comes after Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at the AlAqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday after more than 150 people were wounded.
The Pontiff also called for reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians and among the people of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he is due to visit in July.