Pope Francis celebrates the Easter mass on March 31, 2013 at the Vatican. Pope Francis prepared to lead his first Easter Sunday celebrations with tens of thousands of people expected in St Peter’s Square for a mass marking the holiest day in the Christian calendar. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Updated March 27, 2016 3:13 p.m. ET
In his Easter Sunday address to the world, Pope Francis launched a message of hope for strife-torn nations in the Middle East and Africa, while denouncing “blind and brutal” violence wrought by terrorists and decrying countries that refuse “welcome and assistance” for migrants and refugees.
In his twice yearly “Urbi et Orbi” address, Pope Francis capped a Holy Week that has unfolded in the shadow of the terrorist attacks in Belgium, a deadly assault in an Iraqi stadium and deep discord over the fate of tens of thousands of migrants stranded in the Balkans and Greece.
“Our world is full of persons suffering in body and spirit, even as the daily news is full of stories of brutal crimes which often take place within homes, and large-scale armed conflicts which cause indescribable suffering to entire peoples,” said the pope.
Throughout this year’s Holy Week ceremonies, Pope Francis has used powerful words and gestures to denounce terrorism and war, while at the same time expressing faith in the power of interreligious dialogue to stop violence and heal divisions. The 79-year-old pontiff has been unwavering in his faith in the power of dialogue with Islam, once saying he would be willing to speak with Islamic State terrorists in the name of peace.
On Holy Thursday, the pope traveled to a migrant reception center outside Rome to perform the traditional Holy Thursday feet-washing ceremony. The pope washed the feet of eight men and four women, including Eritrean Coptic Christians, Nigerian Catholics, a Hindu man from India and three Muslims from Pakistan, Mali and Syria. “We are children of the same God, who want to live in peace,” he said.
During Good Friday services in Rome—which took place under heavy security—the pope used strong language to decry terrorism, alluding to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in recalling “our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.”
He blasted “terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions that profane the name of God and that use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence.”
In his “Urbi et Orbi” address on Sunday, Pope Francis recalled not only the assault last week in Brussels that killed 28 people, but also attacks in Turkey, Nigeria and other African countries. He prayed for the success of ongoing talks to broker a solution to the Syrian war and for peace in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
Even while he offered a grim inventory of violence and suffering, much of the pope’s address on Sunday morning was imbued with hope. “Weapons of love” can bring salvation “before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind,” he said.
The pope dedicated a lengthy passage to the plight of migrants, a deeply divisive issue in Europe, where a number of countries have closed their borders to keep the new arrivals out and where migrant aid groups and some politicians have blasted a new agreement to detain migrants, including Syrian refugees, arriving in Greece and return them to Turkey. Pope Francis has frequently called for national leaders to open their doors to the migrants, a stance that has earned him some criticism from anti-immigration politicians.
During Good Friday prayers, Pope Francis said “the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas…have become insatiable cemeteries, reflections of our indifferent and anesthetized conscience.” On Sunday, he recalled “ever more numerous throngs of migrants and refugees—including many children—fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice.
“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,” said the Argentina-born pontiff.
During his appearances in the past week, the pope also reiterated his concern for the destruction of the environment, criticized corrupt public officials and denounced arms dealers—all frequent themes of his papacy.
The ceremonies have unfolded amid tight security, which has been stepped up after terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels and in the wake of public threats by Islamic State members to attack the Vatican. But the pope delighted the crowd assembled under sunny skies Sunday morning when he toured St. Peter’s Square in his open-topped popemobile.
Write to Deborah Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org