VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis urged countries in his Easter message on Sunday to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly to the world’s poor, and called out the armed conflict and military spending during a pandemic as “scandalous”.
The coronavirus has meant that this has been the second year in a row that papal Easter services have been attended by small gatherings at a secondary altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, rather than by crowds in church or in the square outside.
After saying mass, Francis read his message “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world), in which he traditionally reviews the problems of the world and asks for peace.
“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor. However, and this is scandalous, the armed conflicts have not ended and the military arsenals are being strengthened, ”he said.
Francis, who would normally have given the address to up to 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, spoke to fewer than 200 in the church as the message was relayed to tens of millions of people around the world.
The square was empty except for a few police officers who enforced a strict three-day national lockdown.
The Pope asked God to comfort the sick, those who have lost a loved one and the unemployed, and urged the authorities to give the neediest families a “decent livelihood.”
He praised medical workers, sympathized with young people unable to attend school, and said that all were called to fight the pandemic.
“I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming the delays in the distribution of vaccines and facilitating their distribution, especially in the poorest countries,” he said.
Francis, who has often called for disarmament and a total ban on the possession of nuclear weapons, said: “There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world! May the Lord, who is our peace, help us to overcome the mentality of war ”.
‘INSTRUMENTS OF DEATH’
Noting that it was International Antipersonnel Landmine Awareness Day, he called those weapons “hideous and insidious devices … how much better would our world be without these instruments of death!”
In mentioning conflict zones, he praised “Myanmar’s youth who are committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully.” More than 550 protesters have been killed since the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, which the Pope visited in 2017.
Francis called for peace in several conflict areas in Africa, including the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia and the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique. He said the crisis in Yemen has been “met with a deafening and scandalous silence.”
He called on Israelis and Palestinians to “rediscover the power of dialogue” to reach a two-state solution in which both can live together in peace and prosperity.
Francis said he realized that many Christians were still being persecuted and called for all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion to be lifted around the world.
Report by Philip Pullella; Edited by Frances Kerry