Pope Francis has described the Easter Sunday attacks on churches in Sri Lanka as acts of “cruel violence” and has pledged his solidarity with the country's Christian community.
During an Easter Sunday, Urbi et Orbi address - “to the City and to the World” - Francis responded to the wave of violence that was waged against churches and some hotels across the island nation, killing more than 150 people.
“I learned with sadness the news of the serious attacks that just today, Easter day, bought distress and pain to some churches and other places in Sri Lanka,” he told a crowd of thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square.
“I wish to express my close affection to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”
He added that he entrusted “to the Lord” all those who have “tragically disappeared” and is praying for the “wounded and those who suffer” after what had happened.
Francis said the message of Christ’s resurrection was the beginning of the “new world, set free from the slavery of sin and death” and a “world open at last to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love, peace and fraternity.”
He prayed for in conflict strewn parts of the world including the Middle East, Syria, South Sudan, and Venezuela.
He addressed the Easter message to South Sudan, where thousands have been killed in a brutal civil war and millions have been left starving.
“May the Risen Lord accompany the efforts of the civil and religious authorities of South Sudan, sustained by the fruits of the spiritual retreat held several days ago here in the Vatican. May 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 said.
His words came after he hosted a retreat for South Sudanese leaders at the end of which he made a dramatic appeal for them to continue their peace efforts by kissing their feet.
He also prayed that "the Living Christ grant his peace to the entire beloved African continent, still rife with social tensions, conflicts and at times violent forms of extremism that leave in their wake insecurity, destruction and death, especially in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon.”
The 82-year-old Latin American Pope also talked about conflicts in Venezuela, where he said people “lack the minimal conditions for leading a dignified and secure life due to a crisis that endures and worsens” and that in Nicaragua he prayed that a “peaceful negotiated solution for the benefit of the entire Nicaraguan people” could be found “as rapidly as possible.”
Easter, Francis explained, makes Christians think of the Middle East, which he said was “torn by continuing divisions and tensions.”
He said: “I think in particular of the people of Yemen, especially the children, exhausted by hunger and war. May the light of Easter illumine all government leaders and peoples in the Middle East, beginning with Israelis and Palestinians, and spur them to alleviate such great suffering and to pursue a future of peace and stability.”
The Pope also made an appeal for the “eastern regions of Ukraine” where many "suffer from the continuing conflict.” Francis said: “May the Lord encourage initiatives of humanitarian aid and those aimed at pursuing a lasting peace.”
At the end of his Urbi et Orbi address, Francis recalled that it was the 70th anniversary since Pius XII became the first Pope to speak on television. This took place at Easter in 1949.