Pope Francis again calls for truce in Ukraine on Orthodox Easter

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April 24 (UPI) — Pope Francis on Sunday called for a truce in Ukraine as Orthodox Christians and Eastern-rite Catholics celebrate Easter.

Francis made his comments during the Regina Caeli prayer in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday and offered his “warmest wishes” to those celebrating the religious holiday.

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“Christ is risen, he is truly risen! May he fill with hope the good expectations of hearts. May he grant peace, outraged by the barbarity of war,” Francis said.

Francis noted that Sunday marks two months since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and said that “the war has worsened” instead of stopping.

“It is sad that in these days, which are the holiest and most solemn for all Christians, the deadly roar of weapons is heard rather than the sound of bells announcing the Resurrection; and it is sad that weapons are increasingly taking the place of words,” Francis said.

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“I renew my appeal for an Easter truce, a minimal and tangible sign of a desire for peace. The attack must be stopped, to respond to the suffering of the exhausted population; it must stop.”

In a veiled message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the pope urged politicians to “listen to the voice of the people who want peace.”

Francis has been an outspoken critic of the war in Ukraine and called for a truce in the war-torn country ahead of the start of the holy week earlier this month.

Catholics and Protestant Christian denominations and groups celebrated Easter last Sunday, following the Gregorian calendar, but most people in Ukraine and Russia are Orthodox Christian and celebrate Easter on Sunday, following the Julian calendar.

During the Catholic celebration of Easter last Sunday, Francis held a mass during an Easter “marked by war” as St. Peter’s Square was packed with an estimated 100,000 visitors for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our eyes, too, are incredulous on this Easter of war. We have seen all too much blood, all too much violence. Our hearts, too, have been filled with fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing,” Francis said last Sunday.

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Francis’ comments have stood in stark contrast to those from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has sided with Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

“It is my firm belief that its initiators are not the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, who came from one Kievan baptismal font, are united by common faith, common saints and prayers, and share common historical fate,” Kirill said in a letter last month.

“The origins of the confrontation lie in the relationships between the West and Russia. By the 1990s Russia had been promised that its security and dignity would be respected. However, as time went by, the forces overtly considering Russia to be their enemy came close to its borders.”

Kirill has said that Russian soldiers are defending their fatherland after NATO member states built up their military “year after year” while “disregarding Russia’s concerns that these weapons may one day be used against it.”

The Orthodox leader said last week that religious communities in Russia have given “about 15 tons” of aid to Mariupol, which has faced a humanitarian crisis under the siege of Russian forces. Further details about how the aid was given were not immediately known.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday that the humanitarian aid group is “deeply alarmed” by the continuing situation in Mariupol.

Immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access is urgently required to allow for the voluntary safe passage of thousands of civilians and hundreds of wounded out of the city, including from the Azovstal plant area,” the statement reads.

The Red Cross aid that it has been working every day since the end of February to reach civilians in need in Mariupol and “other cities where civilians are trapped” and has repeatedly called for the voluntary safe passage of civilians out of these areas.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with Zelensky by phone on Sunday and said that “the injured and civilians must definitely be evacuated from Mariupol where the situation was getting more and more saddening each passing day.”