Pope Francis prays for peace in Ukraine, Syria and Nigeria in his Easter mass from the Vatican

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 7:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 2:33am


Celebrating Easter yesterday, Christianity's most joyous and hopeful day, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine and Syria and for an end to the terrorist attacks in Nigeria that have targeted many Christians.

More than 150,000 tourists - Romans and pilgrims, young and old - turned out for the mass that Francis celebrated at an altar set up under a canopy on the steps of St Peter's Basilica.

Waving flags from the pope's native Argentina as well as from Brazil, Mexico, Britain, Poland and many other countries, they filled the broad boulevard leading from the square to the Tiber River.

Dawn brought clear skies and warm temperatures for Easter, the culmination of Holy Week, the day which marks the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.

Francis noted that this year the Catholic Church's celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine. Some of the hymns at the Vatican mass were in Russian.

Invoking God, he said: "We ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence".

Francis also prayed that all sides in Syria would be moved to "boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue". Since March 2011, Syria has been wracked by a civil war that has cost 150,000 lives and forced millions to flee the country.

Christians make up about 5 per cent of Syria's population. In comments to mark Easter there, the Greek Orthodox patriarch vowed that Syria's Christians "will not submit" to extremists who attack "our people and holy places".

Francis will make a pilgrimage to Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel next month. He prayed that hopes sparked by the resumption of Middle East peace negotiations could be sustained.

He also recalled those suffering in Africa from an epidemic of the deadly Ebola virus and urged a halt to "brutal terrorist attacks" in parts of Nigeria.

Nigerians marked Easter with heightened security against a spreading Islamic uprising, mourning the deaths of 75 bomb blast victims and fearful for the fate of 85 abducted schoolgirls.

In Venezuela, there were hopes that Vatican mediation could help end political unrest. Francis urged that "hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord" there.

But Francis also urged people to pay attention to the needy close to home. He said the "good news" of Easter's joy and hope meant "leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life's troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast".