Pope Francis mourns victims of conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine during Easter message

Pope Francis has used his Easter speech to mourn the victims of fighting in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine. He also reiterated his appeal for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church led Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City before delivering his message from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

The pope said, "My thoughts go especially to the victims of the many conflicts worldwide, beginning with those in Israel and Palestine, and in Ukraine."

He expressed his hope for what he called "a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine."

The pope said, "I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza." He also restated his calls for the prompt release of the remaining hostages seized on October 7 and for an immediate ceasefire in the enclave.

The pontiff said, "Let us not allow the current hostilities to continue to have grave repercussions on the civil population, by now at the limit of its endurance, and above all on the children."

The pope said, "War is always an absurdity, war is always a defeat!" He added, "Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts."

The pope's Easter speech came after he had made a controversial remark about the situation in Ukraine during an interview published by Swiss broadcaster RSI in March.

The interviewer used the words "white flag" when asking the pope whether he thought negotiations would legitimize actions by the strongest party.

The pope replied, "It is one interpretation." But he also said "the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates."

The comment drew responses from Ukraine. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on social media: "Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags."

A Vatican spokesperson said in a statement that the pope had "picked up the image of the white flag, proposed by the interviewer, to indicate...a truce reached with the courage of negotiation."

The pope did not refer to his "white flag" remark in the Easter address.

Easter is a Christian festival to commemorate what the faithful believe was the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion.