Pope speaks out for victims of strife in Easter address

Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Mass at the

Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Mass at the Vatican. He prepared to lead his first Easter Sunday celebrations in St. Peter's Square. (March 31, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Pope Francis invited Roman Catholics to become messengers of peace Sunday as he spoke out for victims of war, religious conflicts and injustice from the red-draped balcony of St. Peter's Basilica during his first Easter Sunday papal address.

"Dear brothers and sisters, Christ died and rose once for all, and for everyone, but the power of resurrection -- this Passover from the slavery of evil to the freedom of goodness -- must be accomplished in every age, in our concrete existence, in our everyday lives," he said.

Below the balcony, a carpet of yellow broom flowers, lilies and carnations decorated the steps of the church. Cardinals and bishops sat on both sides of the white-canopied altar for Easter Sunday Mass.

A sea of pilgrims listened as Francis turned his Easter reflection into a condemnation of global conflicts, invoking first an end to tensions between Israelis and Palestinians "that they may courageously and willingly resume negotiations."

He then prayed for the refugees of the war in Syria -- still waiting for humanitarian aid -- for children in Nigeria who are held hostage by terrorist groups, and for the victims of civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.

"How much blood has been shed?" Francis asked. "How much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?"

From a corner of St. Peter's Square, Lebanese flags waved as crowds cheered for the pope's appeal. "Each time he speaks of peace, we feel like he is speaking to us directly because we in the Middle East are very much in need of peace," said Firas Wehbe, coordinator for the Catholic youth movement in Lebanon.

In his first three weeks as pope, Francis has spoken out for the poor and the forgotten, encouraged dialogue among religions, put Roman Catholic youth at the center of his homilies and greeted thousands from his popemobile, which toured St. Peter's Square after each public Mass and audience.

His predecessor's resignation at the end of February left a church in crisis, amid financial scandals of the Roman Curia and sex-abuse accusations against Catholic priests around the globe. But experts say Benedict XVI's departure was timed to put a spotlight on the new pope during Easter.

"Pope Francis made the most of it," said Vatican correspondent Giovanna Chirri, of the Italian news agency ANSA. "His insisting on the poor and the forgotten with practical examples could trigger meaningful gestures and important decisions within the church."

It is customary for popes to preach peace during Easter. In his simple style, Francis delved into a variety of issues ailing modern society, saying human trafficking is now the most widespread form of slavery and drug trafficking a global source of violence. The crowds spilled out of St. Peter's Square, every so often erupting in applause.

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