(Reuters) - Pope Francis, in his Easter address before a huge crowd, on Sunday denounced the "immense wastefulness" in the world while many go hungry and called for an end to conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Africa.
"We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent," he said in his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message.
Francis, marking the second Easter season of his pontificate, celebrated a Mass to an overflowing crowd of at least 150,000 in St. Peter's Square and beyond.
The crowd stretched back along all of Via della Conciliazione, the boulevard between the Vatican and the Tiber River. Speaking under a sunny sky after a midnight rainstorm soaked the tens of thousands of flowers that bedecked the square, Francis weaved his message around the suffering of people across the globe.
He prayed to God to "help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible". Since his election as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, Francis had made defense of the poor a hallmark of his papacy, often criticizing developed nations and the excesses of capitalism and consumerism. The 77-year-old pope, wearing white vestments for the service, prayed for the protection of those members of society who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and abandonment - women, children, the elderly and immigrants. Easter is the most important day on the liturgical calendar because it commemorates the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion and the Church sees it as a symbol of hope, peace and reconciliation among peoples and nations.
BOLD PEACE NEGOTIATIONS
The pope called on the international community to "boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue" in Syria, where more than 150,000 people have been killed in the civil war, a third of them civilians. Millions have fled the country. "We pray in a particular way for Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population," he said. Francis asked God to "enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country's future". He also asked for an end to violence in Iraq, Venezuela, South Sudan and the Central Africa Republic.
Francis appealed for more medical attention for the victims of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and care for those suffering from many other diseases spread through neglect and dire poverty. He called for a "halt to the brutal terrorist attacks" in f Nigeria, an apparent reference to Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which earlier this month abducted some 130 girls from a school in the north of the country.
The Easter Sunday services were the culmination of four hectic days of Holy Week activities for the pontiff. Next Sunday, he will canonize Pope John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 to 2005, and Pope John XXIII, who was pontiff from 1958 to 1963 and called the Second Vatican Council, a landmark meeting that modernized the Church. Hundreds of thousands of people are due to come to Rome for the canonizations, the first time two popes are be made saints simultaneously and the first canonizations of a pope since 1954.
(Article courtesy of Reuters. Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Angus MacSwan)