Pope Francis leads thousands in Easter celebrations

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 31: Pope Francis delivers his Urbi Et Orbi Blessing from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square on March 31, 2024 in Vatican City, Vatican. Following the Easter Sunday Mass, Pope Francis delivered his Easter message and blessing "To the City and the World," praying especially for the Holy Land, Ukraine, Myanmar, Syria, Lebanon, and Africa, as well as for victims of human trafficking, unborn children, and all experiencing hard times. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

ROME — Pope Francis presided over Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square.

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Francis appeared to be in good shape Sunday even after a two-and-a-half-hour vigil Saturday evening, The Associated Press reported.

Around 30,000 people attended the Mass, the Vatican said, according to the AP. More people filled the Via della Conciliazione boulevard leading to the piazza.

Francis also delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, according to Reuters. Francis said his thoughts this year went to the people of Ukraine and Gaza, especially the children, the AP reported.

“In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for the sake of all!” he said, according to the AP. Francis called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and for hostages taken from Israel on Oct. 7 to be released.

The Pope skipped a Good Friday service at the last minute “to preserve his health” for the Easter weekend, the Vatican said, according to CNN.

Francis was hospitalized in late February for the flu. For more than a year, he had been using a wheelchair and a walker because of strained ligaments in his knee.

The pontiff had surgery for intestinal blockage in June 2023. That came two years after Francis had 13 inches of his colon removed because of a narrowing of his large intestine.

He was hospitalized for five days at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital in late March 2023 with a lung infection.

Francis had part of one lung removed when he was younger.

He was elected the 266th pope in history on March 13, 2013, after the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI two weeks earlier.

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