Pope Francis holds up the holy host as he celebrates his first Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The square was packed with joyous pilgrims and bedecked with spring flowers.
VATICAN CITY — In his first Easter Sunday message, Pope Francis called for “peace in all the world,” urging Israelis and Palestinians to “resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long,” calling for an end to the civil war in Syria, and promoting a “renewed spirit of reconciliation” on the Korean Peninsula.
Celebrating his first Easter Sunday as Pontiff in the enthusiastic company of more than 250,000 people who overflowed from St. Peter’s Square, Francis also deplored a world “divided by greed looking for easy gain.”
And, in keeping with his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who is identified as the protector of animals and the environment, the Pope called on all people to be “responsible guardians of creation.”
The Roman Catholic leader aimed his Easter greetings at “every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons.”
Francis prayed that Jesus would inspire people to “change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”
As popes before him have, he urged Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks and end a conflict that “has lasted all too long.”
In reflecting on the two-year Syrian crisis, Francis asked, “How much suffering must there still be before a political solution” can be found?
The Pope also expressed desire for a “spirit of reconciliation” on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea says it has entered “a state of war” with South Korea.
He also decried warfare and terrorism in Africa, as well as what he called the 21st century’s most extensive form of slavery: human trafficking.
Many of the faithful came to get a first glimpse of Francis, who became Pope less than three weeks ago but has already made a forceful impression with his down-to-earth style.
They were not disappointed on Sunday.
After Mass, he stepped aboard an open-topped popemobile for a cheerful spin through the joyous crowd, kissing babies and patting children on the head.
In a poignant moment, Francis cradled and kissed a physically disabled boy passed to him from the crowd.
The child worked hard to make one of his arms hug the pope back, then succeeded, smiling in satisfaction as the pope patiently waited for the boy to give his greeting.
One admirer of both the Pope and of the Pope’s favorite soccer team, Argentina’s Saints of San Lorenzo, insisted that Francis take a team jersey he was waving at the Pontiff.
A delighted Francis obliged, briefly holding up the shirt, and the crowd roared in approval.
Francis has repeatedly put concern for the poor and suffering at the center of his messages, and he pursued his promotion of the causes of peace and social justice in the Easter speech.
Earlier, wearing cream-colored vestments, Francis celebrated Mass on the esplanade in front of the basilica at an altar set up under a white canopy.
The sun competed with clouds in the sky Sunday, but the square was a riot of floral color in Rome, where chilly winter has postponed the blossoming of many flowers. Yellow forsythia and white lilies shone, along with bursts of lavender and pink, from potted azalea, rhododendron, wisteria, and other plants.
Francis thanked florists from the Netherlands for donating the flowers.
He also advised people to let love transform their lives, or as he put it, “let those desert places in our hearts bloom.”
The Vatican had prepared a list of brief Easter greetings in 65 languages, but Francis didn’t read them.
The Vatican didn’t say why not, but has said that the Pope, at least for now, feels at ease using Italian, the everyday language of the Holy See. Francis also has stressed his role as a pastor to his flock, and, as Bishop of Rome, Italian would be his language.
The pontiff improvised his parting words to the crowd.
He repeated his Easter greeting to those “who have come from all over the world to this square at the heart of Christianity” as well as to those “linked by modern technology,” a reference to TV and radio coverage as well as social media.
Francis added that he was especially remembering “the weakest and the neediest” and praying that all of humanity be guided along “the paths of justice, love, and peace.”
The Easter celebration and the activities leading up to it showed that the 76-year-old Argentine remains intent on stamping a very different style on the pontificate from that of his predecessor.
Francis has insisted on employing a common touch and showing a humility and egalitarianism in keeping with his background as a Jesuit priest living among the people rather than as a spiritual superior cloaked in churchly ritual and splendor.
The Easter Mass before his message was shortened at his direction from its usual three hours.
In another departure from Easter tradition, Francis won’t be heading for some post-holiday relaxation at the Vatican’s summer palace in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills southeast of Rome. That retreat is already occupied by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who went there in the last hours of his papacy on Feb. 28.
Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign from the position and eventually is to move back to the Vatican, after a convent there is readied for him.
Francis so far has declined to move into Benedict’s former apartment in the Apostolic Palace, into the rooms whose studio overlooks St. Peter’s Square.
He is still in the Vatican hotel where he had been staying along with other cardinals participating in the secret conclave to choose Benedict’s successor.