Pope Francis urged the world to use ‘weapons of love’ to combat the ‘brutal violence’ of terrorism as he delivered his Easter Sunday message.
Addressing millions of Catholics across the world, the Pope remembered the 31 victims of the Brussels atrocities, as well as those who have lost their lives in terror attacks in Turkey, Nigeria, Chad and Iraq.
He also used the message to remind Europe to ‘not forget… migrants and refugees fleeing from war, hunger and poverty’ and to call for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. After the homily, the Pope greeted thousands of worshippers from his ‘Popemobile’.
Some 35,000 pilgrims flocked to the Vatican to celebrate Mass, although photographs appear to show a smaller crowd than in previous years.
Visitors faced tight security checks on their way into St Peter’s Square, with police officers carrying out bag and body searches at a number of check points. Security sources said police reinforcements had arrived in Rome from other Italian cities ahead of the event.
It comes amid claims that terrorists responsible for the Brussels bombings, which killed at least 31 people, had originally planned to strike religious services over Easter weekend. One security source told the UK’s Sunday Express the Vatican might have been the intended target.
Islamic State militants have previously made a number of threats against Catholic targets in Rome. Last year, a website used by militants ran a photo montage showing the movement’s black flag flying from the obelisk at the center of St Peter’s Square.
In the bi-annual ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (to the city and the world) message, he spoke of violence, injustice and threats to peace in many parts of the world.
Speaking from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, he said: “May he (the risen Jesus) draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world.”