- Exodus of biblical proportions
Hounded out of their homes by Islamist violence, Iraqi Christians face what many fear may be their final festive season in the land of their fathers as many prepare for exile
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Pope Francis prayed for Syria and refugees fleeing religious persecution in an address before giving the Urbi et Orbi blessing on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter's Square for the traditional Easter blessing "to the city and to the world” yesterday.
Celebrating his second Easter as Pope he also prayed for victims of violence in Iraq and for the success of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. He prayed for an end to violence in the Central African Republic, in parts of Nigeria and in South Sudan, and for an end to unrest in Ukraine and in Venezuela, where the Vatican is to mediate in peace talks.
Naming “Syria, beloved Syria”, he prayed “that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenceless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!”
Francis, who has frequently drawn attention to the vulnerability of migrants, continued: “Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.”
Francis called for an end to hunger "aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness”.
“Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned,” he prayed.
He prayed for better medical care for people struck by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, “and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty”.
He prayed especially for people who have been kidnapped - both “priests and laity” – and all who have been “unjustly torn” from loved ones.
We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.
For Ukraine, he prayed: “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 and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future.”
Francis’ appeal for Syria came as President Bashar al-Assad visited the ravaged ancient Christian-majority town of Maaloula. State television reported that he inspected a monastery damaged in the fighting that enabled his troops to recapture the town from the rebels, who over-ran it last December.
Photo courtesy of Vatican TV