Pope Francis calls for Easter truce in Ukraine

'What victory is there in planting a flag on a pile of rubble?' asks leader of world's Roman Catholics

Pope Francis blesses the olive branches as he leads the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's Square. AFP

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Pope Francis has used his Palm Sunday Mass to call for an Easter ceasefire in Ukraine.

The service at the Vatican began with a procession of Roman Catholic priests, bishops and church members carrying palm and olive branches through St Peter’s Square.

Some in the crowd waved small Ukrainian flags at the tip of olive branches and a woman who read one of the prayers near the altar was dressed in the flag's blue and yellow colours.

“What victory is there in planting a flag on a pile of rubble?” Francis asked.

The Palm Sunday services were the first with the public allowed back in the St Peter’s Square after two years of being scaled back because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Francis earlier evoked the horrors of war in his homily, speaking of “mothers who mourn the unjust death of husbands and sons … refugees who flee from bombs with children in their arms … young people deprived of a future … soldiers sent to kill their brothers and sisters.”

Tens of thousands of people gather in St Peter's Square. AP

“Put the weapons down! Let an Easter truce start. But not to rearm and resume combat but a truce to reach peace through real negotiations open to some sacrifices for the good of the people,” he said.

Since the war began, Francis has only mentioned Russia specifically in prayers, such as during a global event for peace on March 25.

In Christianity, Palm Sunday commemorates the day the Bible says Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was hailed by the people, only to be crucified five days later.

It marks the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday in the Roman Catholic Church on April 17 this year.

Pope Francis greets the faithful as he leaves after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter's Square. AP

Ukraine is predominantly Orthodox. Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter a week later, on April 24.

A flare-up of pain in his knee forced Francis, 85, to skip the traditional procession from the obelisk at the centre of the square to the altar on the steps of St Peter's Basilica.

He watched instead while seated at the altar, to where he was driven in a small car. He later limped as he said the Mass.

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Updated: April 11, 2022, 8:44 AM