Pope in solidarity with refugees in Easter message

Pope Francis (C) leads the Easter Vigil at the St Peter's basilica on March 26, 2016 in Vatican. (AFP)

Pope Francis tempered his Easter Sunday message of Christian hope with a denunciation of “blind” terrorism, recalling victims of attacks in Europe, Africa and elsewhere, as well as expressing dismay that people fleeing war or poverty are being denied welcome as European countries squabble over the refugee crisis.

Tens of thousands of people patiently endured long lines, backpack inspections and metal-detecting checks Sunday to enter St. Peter’s Square.

The pope spoke out against the “rejection” of migrants and refugees in his Easter message, as Europe struggles with its biggest migration crisis since World War II.

“The Easter message of the risen Christ... invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees... fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice,” the pope said.

“All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance.”

Francis has long called for the global community to open its doors to refugees and fight xenophobia -- appeals which have intensified since a controversial deal between Europe and Turkey to expel migrants arriving in Greece.

During Good Friday prayers, the pontiff had also decried what he called Europe’s “indifferent and anaesthetized conscience” over migrants.

On Sunday, the pope also referred to Syria’s “lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law.”

He voiced hope for the UN-brokered indirect peace talks between the government and opposition forces that opened in Geneva in mid-March and are set to resume in April.

“Good will and the cooperation of all will bear fruit in peace and initiate the building of a fraternal society,” he said.

Syria’s five-year conflict has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes, with neighboring countries bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.

 

VIDEO: Celebrating Easter: Facts to know about the oldest Christian occasion

 

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For years, Islamist extremists in social media have listed the Vatican and Rome as potential targets due to hosting the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church and several basilicas. Despite the threats, Francis has kept to his habit of trying to be in close physical contact with ordinary people.

Francis said, for the faithful, Jesus who rose after death by crucifixion “triumphed over evil and sin.” He expressed hope that “will draw us closer to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence.”

At the end of Mass, he chatted briefly with the former king and queen of Belgium, Albert II and Paola, who attended the ceremony.

In his speech, Francis cited recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Iraq.
 

Pope Francis holds a candle as he leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis holds a candle as he leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

In a condolences telegram, the pope said he was saddened by “the great loss of life caused by the terrorist attack” during a match in an Iraqi soccer stadium Friday. That attack, claimed by ISIS, killed more than 40 people.

Francis said he prayed that the Iraqi people would, in response to the attack, "be strengthened in their resolve to reject the ways of hatred and conflict to work together" for a future of mutual respect and freedom.

In his balcony speech, Francis said Easter “invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees - including many children - fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice,” he said.

As he has done repeatedly, Francis lamented that “all too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance.”

 

The pontiff also referred to a spate of recent attacks, including the Brussels bombings on Tuesday that killed 28 people.

He condemned “terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world, as in the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast.”

Pope Francis also spoke of “those areas affected by climate change, which not infrequently causes drought or violent flooding, which then lead to food crises in different parts of the world.”

Christians in the Holy Land and across the world are celebrating Easter, commemorating the day followers believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

The cavernous Holy Sepulcher church in Jerusalem was packed with worshipers on Sunday. The site is where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

(With AFP, AP)

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