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Pope Francis prays for Ukrainians and Russians in Easter address

The pope, who is still recovering from bronchitis, prayed for the people of both Ukraine and Russia and called on the international community to work to resolve the conflict.

ROME —Amid blue skies and sunshine, Pope Francis made his way through thousands of worshippers to deliver his Easter address at the Vatican Sunday, where he prayed for both Russians and Ukrainians and called for a resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Just over a week after he was discharged from the hospital after four days of treatment for bronchitis, Francis spoke of the “darkness and gloom in which, all too often, our world finds itself enveloped” as he highlighted trouble spots across the globe.  

A carpet of 38,000 flowers donated by the Netherlands adorned St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, where the 86-year-old pontiff, joined by dozens of prelates and tens of thousands of worshippers, marked the Easter celebration as honor units of the Vatican Swiss Guards and Italian Carbinieri police stood to attention in ceremonial dress. 

For more on Pope Francis' speech and Holy Week, tune into “NBC Nightly News” at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Pope Francis leads the Easter Sunday mass on April 9, 2023, at St. Peter's square in The Vatican.
Pope Francis leads the Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.Andreas Solaro / AFP - Getty Images

Around 45,000 people were estimated to have gathered for mid-morning Mass, Vatican security services told The Associated Press, with the crowd swelling to 100,000 ahead of the pontiff’s speech. 

The Easter message, known by its Latin name of “Urbi et Orbi” — “to the city and the world” — saw Francis pray for the “beloved Ukrainian people on their journey toward peace” and for “the light of Easter upon the people of Russia.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Francis has regularly referred to Ukraine and its people as “martyred” and has called for the fighting to end.

Ukrainian diplomats have previously complained that he hasn’t come down hard enough on Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Vatican strives to avoid alienating Russia from the Church.

Francis also called for peace in the Middle East — an appeal made more urgent by weekend deadly violence in the West Bank and Tel Aviv and cross-border rocket and airstrikes between Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

He also referred to the February earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, which had a confirmed death toll of more than 57,000 and praised countries that offer “assistance and welcome” to refugees.

Joe Donnelly, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who attended the service, said President Joe Biden was concerned for the pontiff's health.

“The United States wants to make sure that their friend the pope is feeling better, but it goes much deeper than that,” he said. “Every day throughout the pope’s illness we would hear ‘could you get the president an update because he’s concerned about his friend,’” he said. “Before it’s leader to leader or city state to nation, it’s one friend to another.”

Anne Thompson and Elizabeth Kuhr reported from Rome. Leila Sackur from London.