ROME — Pope Francis during his address on Easter Sunday described coordinated attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka as “horrendous” and expressed “heartfelt closeness to the Christian community, attacked while gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such a cruel act of violence.”
“I entrust to the Lord all who so tragically died, and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this traumatic event,” Francis said.
The pope’s Easter speech, delivered from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, came after a searing week for Catholics that included the burning and partial destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and then, on Sunday morning, the attacks in Sri Lanka. More than 290 were killed as a result of explosions that struck three hotels, three churches and a banquet hall across the country.
Francis’s comments on Sri Lanka, delivered to an estimated 70,000 worshipers, were added moments after the conclusion of a pre-written speech in which he prayed for healing and renewal.
Entering the seventh year of his papacy, Francis has emphasized outreach to Christians in areas where they represent a slim minority and are sometimes at risk.
His nine-minute address Sunday was devoted mostly to a litany of global conflict zones, and he mentioned more than a dozen countries across the world — including Sudan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ukraine and Nicaragua.
The pontiff prayed that a holiday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection could spark humanity to open its hearts to the vulnerable — including “all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge and the recognition of their dignity,” Francis said.
“May he make us builders of bridges, not walls,” Francis stated, echoing a common theme of his.
Francis mentioned the danger of becoming indifferent to long-simmering conflicts, including in Syria, where, he said, “we risk becoming ever more resigned.”
“Now is instead the time for a renewed commitment for a political solution able to respond to people’s legitimate hopes for freedom, peace and justice, confront the humanitarian crisis and favor the secure reentry of the homeless, along with all those who have taken refuge in neighboring countries, especially Lebanon and Jordan,” Francis said.
Francis said he was thinking of people in Yemen, where war has choked the economy and where nearly 2 million children are acutely malnourished, according to the World Food Program. The pope also made reference to Libya, where several hundred people have been killed in the past two weeks, as fighters loyal to warlord Khalifa Hifter have set their eyes on the capital of Tripoli.
“I urge the parties involved to choose dialogue over force and to avoid reopening wounds left by a decade of conflicts and political instability,” Francis said.
Francis did not take sides in that conflict, nor did he when speaking about Venezuela, instead emphasizing the values that should prevail. Francis also referenced South Sudan, a country in which the Vatican has recently tried to play a lead diplomatic role. Earlier this month, Francis hosted South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar for a retreat.
Several years of warfare in the country have killed tens of thousands and displaced several million. But Kiir and Machar last year signed a tenuous peace agreement.
“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,” Francis said.