Pope Francis urges diplomatic solution for Korean Peninsula

(Photo: Reuters / Stefano Rellandini)Pope Francis (L) waves near balloons and an Argentina flag as he leaves at the end of the Easter mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 31, 2013.

Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter Mass and used his address after it to call for a diplomatic solution to tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where the North has said it is in a state of war with the South.

Imploring peace in the world the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said, "Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow."

Delivering his first "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message before more than 200,000 people, the pontiff also dwelt on the Middle East.

"Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long," said Francis.

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"Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort. How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?"

The Pope  spoke of  vioent conflicts in Africa calling for a return to unity and stability in Mali.

He pleaded for a return to peace in Nigeria, "where attacks sadly continue, gravely threatening the lives of many innocent people, and where great numbers of persons, including children, are held hostage by terrorist groups."

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation with 174 million people of whom about 50 percent are Muslims and more than 40 percent are Christians. In the north an extremist group called Boko Harum says it wants to introduce full Islamic law.

The Pope also urged, "Peace in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Central African Republic, where many have been forced to leave their homes and continue to live in fear."

In his Easter Mass Francis delivered another sermon calling on the faithful to follow the way of Jesus and open themselves to forgiveness.

"We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past.

"Let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives!

"Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him

Since he was elected Francis has changed the way the pontiff reacts with the public.

On Holy Thursday, he went to the Casal del Marmo youth detention center in Rome where he washed the feet of 12 young detainees, among them two women and two Muslims.

Francis pontiff poured water over the young offenders' feet, wiped them with a white towel and kissed them.

In his homily, given to about 50 young offenders, he said everyone should help one another.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News