ROME - Pope Francis expressed closeness to the Christian community struck by the attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter day. In his Easter message he also prayed for peace in Syria, Yemen, Libya and South Sudan. Addressing tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square from the central balcony of the basilica, the pope said the resurrection of Christ, he said, is the principle of new life for every man and woman.
Under grey skies, but in a Saint Peter's Square filled with flowers, Pope Francis, dressed in white vestments, celebrated Easter mass in front of tens of thousands of faithful and tourists.
At the end of the mass the pope gave his traditional message and blessing to the city and to the world. His last words before he wished everyone a Happy Easter were for the people of Sri Lanka struck he said by the serious attacks on Easter day, which brought mourning and pain in some of the churches and other sites in the country. He said he learned the news with sadness and expressed closeness to the Christian community gathered in prayer.
Earlier in his message the pope said, "The resurrection of Christ is the principle of new life for every man and every woman, for true renewal always begins from the heart, from the conscience.” Yet Easter, the pope added, is also "the beginning of the new world, set free from the slavery of sin and death."
The pope's first thoughts went to the people of Syria, "victims of an ongoing conflict to which we risk becoming ever more resigned and even indifferent." He urged a new commitment for a political solution that will respond for the hopes for peace and confront the humanitarian crisis. The pope's thoughts also turned to "the people of Yemen, especially the children, exhausted by hunger and war," and to the situation in Libya.
The pope said, "May conflict and bloodshed cease in Libya, where defenseless people are once more dying in recent weeks and many families have been forced to abandon their homes." Pope Francis urged the parties involved to "choose dialogue over force and to avoid reopening wounds left by a decade of conflicts and political instability."
The pope also prayed for peace in other parts of the African continent, which he said is still rife with "social tensions, conflicts and at times violent forms of extremism that leave in their wake insecurity, destruction and death." He mentioned Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon. But he also spoke of Sudan, which he said is "presently experiencing a moment of political uncertainty."
Referring to the recent spiritual retreat held with South Sudanese leaders in the Vatican, the pope expressed the hope for "a new page open in the history of that country, in which all political, social and religious components actively commit themselves to the pursuit of the common good and the reconciliation of the nation."
The pope also mentioned the crisis Venezuela and the situation in Nicaragua, where he expressed hope for a "peaceful negotiated solution."