RELIGIOUS leaders used their Easter messages yesterday to highlight issues ranging from suffering in war-torn countries to the rise in the use of food banks.
Celebrating Mass in St Peter’s Square in Rome yesterday before a crowd of more than 150,000 people, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Syria and Ukraine and “an end to all war and every conflict”.
In his second Easter address since taking office, he also condemned terrorist attacks in Nigeria and said more attention needed to be paid to the hungry and needy nearer home.
Standing under a canopy on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said he 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”.
He told the crowd that this year the Catholic Church’s celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine.
The Pope also prayed that all sides in Syria, which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war with the loss of around 150,000 lives, would be moved to “boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue.”
But the Pope, who has set an austere tone in his papacy by forsaking an ornate apostolic palace apartment for a simple guest house on the Vatican grounds and rejecting limousines, also urged people to pay attention to the needy close to home.
He said Easter’s joy means “leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.” He denounced the “scourge of hunger,” which he said was “aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury also highlighted the suffering of people facing conflict around the world during his Easter sermon.
The Most Rev Justin Welby, delivering his second Easter message since becoming head of the Church of England, at Canterbury Cathedral referred to struggles endured by people in Syria, Ukraine, and Rwanda, as well as in Britain.
In the sermon, Archbishop Welby said: “In Syria mothers cry for their children and husbands. In the Ukraine neighbours cry because the future is precarious and dangerous. In Rwanda tears are still shed each day as the horror of genocide is remembered.
“In this country, even as the economy improves there is weeping in broken families, in people ashamed to seek help from food banks, or frightened by debt. Asylum seekers weep with loneliness and missing far away families.”
The Most Rev Justin Welby also praised the resilience of persecuted Christian minorities around the globe.
“Their certainty that Jesus is alive enables them to face all horrors with joy,” the Archbishop said. “I remember sitting in a room with the Bishop who had come over from Pakistan soon after the attack in September on a church in Peshawar.
“I asked how Christians were coping with the fear that such attacks brought, and wondered if there had been anyone in church the week following the attack. ‘Oh yes’ the Bishop replied, ‘there were three times as many people the next week’.
“Such action is made possible only by the resurrection. The persecuted church flourishes because of the resurrection.”
In his Easter message, Archbishop of York John Sentamu linked a “wilful senility” in society to issues including human trafficking, gender-based violence and tax avoidance.
He said: “Sadly, we have forgotten our memory as people who have been rescued, and we have become senile.
“Human trafficking, child sexual abuse, citizen indiscriminatingly killing citizen in the Central African Republic, Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo; gender-based violence, tax avoidance, embezzlement of government funds in many parts of the world, hunger, poverty, lack of drinking water and preventable diseases in our global village; and the use of stereotypical language that diminishes people we happen to disagree with, are all the fruit of our wilful senility.
“We were all rescued, redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us recover our memory and become who we are. A people rescued.”
Dr Sentamu, the Church of England’s second highest-ranking cleric, said “the admission of all sorts and conditions of men and women” into the Christian community had been “a very severe, painful and paralysing religious issue”.
The Rt Rev Lorna Hood became the first Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to issue an Easter message on social media.
In her three-minute live message on YouTube on Good Friday, Mrs Hood highlighted the need for more young people to answer the call to ministry.
Sitting on a park bench in Princes Street in Edinburgh Mrs Hood said the Kirk, like so many other churches, needed new ministers.
Recalling the fast-tracking of many young men into the ministry following the Second World War she said: “We need to be imaginative, think out the box”, before suggesting that part-time study combined with part-time work could help solve the problem.
The Muslim Council of Britain and the Hindu Council UK also marked the Easter period with “spiritual reflection”.