VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis delivered a plea for peace in his first Easter Sunday message to the world, decrying the seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula after celebrating Mass at an outdoor altar before more than 250,000 people in flower-bedecked St. Peter's Square.
Francis shared in his flock's exuberance as they celebrated Christianity's core belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead following crucifixion. After Mass, he stepped aboard an open-topped white popemobile for a cheerful spin through the joyous crowd, kissing babies and patting children on the head.
One admirer of both the pope and of the pope's favorite soccer team, Argentina's Saints of San Lorenzo, insisted that Francis take a team jersey he was waving at the pontiff. A delighted Francis obliged, briefly holding up the shirt, and the crowd roared in approval.
Francis has repeatedly put concern for the poor and suffering at the center of his messages, and he pursued his promotion of the causes of peace and social justice in the Easter speech he delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the same vantage point above the square where he was introduced to the world as the first Latin American pope on March 13.
The Roman Catholic leader aimed his Easter greetings at "every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons." Francis prayed that Jesus would inspire people to "change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace."
As popes before him have, he urged Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks and end a conflict that "has lasted all too long." And, in reflecting on the two-year-old Syrian crisis, Francis asked, "How much suffering must there still be before a political solution" can be found?