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Pope’s Easter Prayer Is for Peace in Ukraine and Syria

Pope Francis celebrated his second Easter as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics by calling for peace in Syria and Ukraine and an end to attacks against Christians in Nigeria.

The 77-year-old Argentine pope prayed that God would "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."

In eastern Ukraine meanwhile, the holiday was marred by a deadly shooting Sunday fueled by tensions between pro-Russian supporters in the east and those loyal to an interim government in Kiev.

Francis also prayed that all sides in Syria will be moved to "boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue."

Syria has been wracked by a three-year civil war that has cost 150,000 lives and forced millions to flee the country. Christians make up about 5 percent of Syria's population. In comments to mark Easter there, the Greek Orthodox patriarch vowed that Christians there "will not submit" to extremists who attack "our people and holy places."

Image: A general view shows flowers on the parvis of St Peter's basilica during the Easter mass on Sunday in the Vatican.
A general view shows flowers on the parvis of St Peter's basilica during the Easter mass on Sunday in the Vatican. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP - Getty Images

More than 150,000 people that turned out for the Mass, and the crowds overflowed St. Peter's Square, which which was bedecked with row after row of potted daffodils, sprays of blue hyacinths and bunches of white roses.The flowers were thanks to a yearly gift from the florists of the Netherlands.

Francis also urged a halt to "brutal terrorist attacks" in parts of Nigeria. Nigerians marked Easter with heightened security against a spreading Islamic uprising, mourning the deaths of 75 bomb blast victims and fearful of the fate of 85 abducted schoolgirls.

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Francis noted that this year the Catholic church's celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine — and some of the hymns at the Vatican Mass on Sunday were in Russian.

— F. Brinley Bruton, with The Associated Press and Reuters