Pope Francis calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza during Easter address

The pontiff also urged Hamas to release Israeli hostages in his traditional address at the Vatican

Pope Francis presides over the Easter Mass in the Vatican. AFP
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Pope Francis has used his Easter message to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages being held by Hamas.

The 87-year-old pontiff made an appeal for an end to wars in Gaza and Ukraine during the traditional address at the Vatican to mark the most important festival in the Christian calendar.

Tens of thousands of worshippers gathered in St Peter's square in Rome to hear Pope Francis lead Easter Sunday Mass.

He called for the “prompt” release of prisoners taken from Israel on October 7, an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and for humanitarian access to reach Palestinians.

“I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza, and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on October 7 and for an immediate ceasefire in the strip,” he said.

“Let us not allow the current hostilities to continue to have grave repercussions on the civil population, by now at the limit of its endurance, and above all on the children.”

The Pope's plea came as Egypt hosted an Israeli delegation for a new round of talks in a bid to secure a truce with Hamas rulers.

Meanwhile, about 800 Christians sheltering in two churches have been praying for an end to the war.

Christians sought refuge in the Holy Family Church, the only Roman Catholic parish in Gaza, and the historic Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius, after war engulfed the enclave following the October 7 attacks.

The Mass precedes the pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” – to the city and the world – blessing, in which the pope traditionally addresses threats afflicting humanity.

This year his speech also touched on the plight of Haitians, the Rohingya and victims of human trafficking.

The pope said his thoughts went particularly to people in Ukraine and Gaza and all those facing war, particularly the children who he said had “forgotten how to smile”.

“In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for the sake of all!” he said.

For the past few weeks, the pope has generally avoided delivering long speeches to avoid the strain on his breathing.

The pontiff, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling respiratory problems all winter but he appeared in good form, despite having celebrated the two-and-a-half-hour night Easter Vigil just hours before.

He ditched his Palm Sunday homily last week and decided at the last minute to stay home from the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum.

Updated: March 31, 2024, 12:20 PM