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Vatican Easter address: Pope Francis expresses grief over Sri Lanka attacks

media Pope Francis waves to worshipers Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019 Vincenzo PINTO/AFP

In his traditional Easter Sunday address to the faithful at the Vatican, Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his "sadness" at news of the deadly bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. He also urged world leaders to try again to bring peace to Libya, help Syrian refugees return home and for South Sudan to pursue its national reconciliation.

70,000 people gathered in Saint Peter's square, to hear Pope Francis deliver his call for peace in several conflicts around the world.

Referring to the spate of attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, he said "I want to express my affectionate closeness with the Christian community, attacked while it was at prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence," he said.

The pope noted how Easter, the holiest Christian festival, "makes us keep our eyes fixed on the Middle East, torn by continuing divisions and tensions."

Plight of refugees and those displaced by conflict

He made a special plea for refugees, calling for help to allow Syrians to be able to return home.

"Now is instead the time for a renewed commitment for a political solution able to respond to people's legitimate hopes for freedom, peace and justice, confront the humanitarian crisis and favour the secure re-entry of the homeless, along with all those who have taken refuge in neighbouring countries, especially Lebanon and Jordan."

On the subject of Libya, the Pope urged "the parties involved to choose dialogue over force and to avoid reopening wounds left by a decade of conflicts and political instability."

"May conflict and bloodshed cease in Libya, where defenceless people are once more dying in recent weeks," Francis said.

Turning to South Sudan, Pope Francis urged rival leaders President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar, who met recently at the Vatican, to pursure national reconciliation.

On Saturday, Kiir called on Machar to return home "urgently" to help form a government of national unity.

He also mentioned the conflict in Yemen, and the hardships faced in South America.

'Way of the Cross' focus on modern-day slavery

Earlier in the week, on Good Friday the Pope led the traditional Easter week "Way of the Cross" procession in Rome, which was this year took the theme of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

The event spotlighted sex slaves "used" but "condemned by a society which refuses to see this kind of exploitation".

The ceremony marks the day Christ was crucified, took its theme from meditations written by Catholic nun Eugenia Bonetti, who has spent much of her life in Africa and also attended the event.

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