In Easter Urbi et Orbi, Pope Francis prays for 'swift end' to bloody war in Syria, peace in Holy Land

(Screenshot from BBC)Pope Francis delivering his 2017 "urbi et orbi" address on East Sunday, April16, 2017.

Pope Francis has in his traditional Easter Sunday "urbi et orbi" address "to the city and the world," called for an end to conflicts in Syria and the Holy Land, both which seem intractable during another religious celebration of the Jewish feast of the Passover.

Writing in Crux, Vatican observer John L. Allen Jr. said, the address "generally offers a quick summary of a given pontiff's top diplomatic and political concerns, and for those familiar with Pope Francis's agenda, it's no surprise that Syria took top billing again this year."

Francis call for peace in the Holy Land for peace in the Holy Land came two days after 15 Palestinians were killed on the Israeli-Gaza border, and he noted that the conflict there "does not spare the defenceless".

"Today we implore fruits of peace upon the entire world, beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria, whose people are worn down by an apparently endless war," said Francis.

"This Easter, may the light of the risen Christ illumine the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage in course, " said the Pope.

He urged "that humanitarian law may be respected and that provisions be made to facilitate access to the aid so urgently needed by our brothers and sisters, while also ensuring fitting conditions for the return of the displaced." 

Estimates on the death toll produced by the seven-year-old war in Syria vary, a 2016 study by the Syrian Center for Policy Research asserted that almost 500,000 have died, including both combatants and civilian casualties, while almost two million have been injured.

As of February 2018, more than 5.5 million Syrians had fled the country and 6.1 million are internally displaced, together representing half the country's population.

In referring to the Holy Land, citing it as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and to Yemen and the entire Middle East on Sunday, the Pope prayed "that dialogue and mutual respect may prevail over division and violence."

Separately, World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit on April 31 decried both the violence and the denial of the right to nonviolent and peaceful protest on the border between Israel and Gaza.

The protest, the largest seen in Gaza in years, coincided with Palestinian Land Day, which remembers the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land in Israel in 1976.

The protest also coincided with the Jewish feast of the Passover when Jews celebrate their liberation by God from slavery in ancient Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses.

The Israeli Defense Force said it had identified at least 10 of the 15 fatalities as members of terror groups and Israeli also accused the Hamas group in Gaza of using children as human shields in the protests it led.

"This has become a critical situation for people's lives and people's dignity in Gaza," Tveit said.


He noted, "The events the last days shows that it is urgent to respond to the extremely difficult life conditions in Gaza with constructive and just solutions."

The WCC head said, "We call on the Israeli government to guarantee human rights, the freedom of speech and the need for just peace and decent living conditions for all people."

During his address in front the St. Peter's basilica Pope Francis also spoke on Africa.

"We invoke on this day fruits of hope for those who yearn for a more dignified life, above all in those areas of the African continent deeply affected by hunger, endemic conflicts and terrorism," he said.

"May the peace of the risen Lord heal wounds in South Sudan and the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, and open hearts to dialogue and mutual understanding.

"Let us not forget the victims of that conflict, especially the children! May there be no lack of solidarity with all those forced to abandon leave their native lands and lacking the bare essentials for living."

He also alluded to the Korean Peninsula at a time when the leaders of North and South Korean are readying to meet on April 27.

The meeting could help set the stage for a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, and Francis urged dialogue and peace.

"We implore fruits of dialogue for the Korean peninsula, that the discussions under way may advance harmony and peace within the region," he said.

"May those who are directly responsible act with wisdom and discernment to promote the good of the Korean people and to build relationships of trust within the international community."

On Ukraine, Francis expressed hope that "steps taken to favor harmony may be consolidated," and in Venezuela, where a long-running political stalemate is driving an economic implosion, Francis prayed for "fruits of consolation."

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