An Easter under the shadow of the Ukrainian war for the Pope

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The conflict in Ukraine has focused Vatican Holy Week and also the traditional message of Pope Francis on Easter Sunday. The Pontiff today called for peace to put an end to this “cruel and senseless war” to which the “martyred” European country has been dragged. “Please, please, let us not get used to war, let us all commit ourselves to asking for peace with a powerful voice, from the balconies and in the streets”, the Pope demanded before imparting his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing to the city and the whole world, overlooking the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“In this Easter of war”, Francis said, “we have seen too much blood, too much violence”. “Also our hearts were filled with fear and anguish – he continued -, while so many of our brothers and sisters had to hide to defend themselves from the bombs”. “I carry in my heart the numerous Ukrainian victims, the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, the divided families, the elderly who have been left alone, the shattered lives and the devastated cities”, he promised before the 50,000 people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, who have burst with joy when he paraded with the popemobile. After two years of the pandemic, crowds have returned to the Vatican.

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War has been the protagonist of Holy Week in the Vatican, from Palm Sunday, when Francis called for an “Easter truce” in Ukraine, to the Via Crucis in the Colosseum, controversial for uniting a Russian and a Ukrainian woman in a of the stations that represent the way to the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Some Ukrainian representatives deplored the episode as “offensive” and even the country’s Catholic media refused to broadcast the ceremony.

In the end, the Holy See decided to change the text that had been criticized in order to reduce it to a minimum, a gesture that was appreciated by the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, as well as three parliamentarians from the country, accompanied by the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, who met with the Pontiff to thank him. Fedorov, who was detained by Russian forces and later released in a prisoner swap, participated in the Easter Vigil mass.

Pope Francis gave the ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing from the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica

TIZIANA FABI / AFP

In addition to the conflict, Francisco’s knee pain has marked the pontifical Holy Week. The Argentine had to resign from officiating the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday, the first time that a pope has not presided over it since 2005, when John Paul II was in a very serious condition. He also could not prostrate himself on the ground before the cross as he had always done during the celebration of the Passion on Good Friday in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and on Easter Sunday he has been seen walking with difficulties.

The 85-year-old Pontiff suffers from a knee ailment that causes him severe pain, in addition to “problems with ambulation, walking and that is quite annoying”, as he acknowledged at the press conference on his return from his last trip to Malt. Pains so severe that they also forced him to skip the traditional procession from the obelisk to the center of the plaza to the altar on Palm Sunday. “It’s a slow thing, let’s see if he comes back – he explained to journalists a few weeks ago – but there is the doubt that at this age you don’t know how the game is going to end”.

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