Pope Francis and Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni exchanged greetings to mark Passover and Easter.
The two holidays overlap this year.
The holidays, Di Segni wrote to the pontiff, “represent both the link and the separation between our religions.” He noted that over history Easter often was the occasion of anti-Semitic attacks. Today, however, “these days are experienced by both faiths in joy and harmony,” a fact for which he paid tribute to “all those people who have been committed to this healing.”
Di Segni offered a prayer for the pope “in the spirit of respect and brotherly friendship” with the hope that the lord “renders us able to reciprocally understand the sense of difference and the value of brotherhood.”
In his own message to Di Segni on the eve of Passover, the pope prayed that “the Almighty, who freed His people from slavery in Egypt to guide them to the Promised Land, continue to deliver you from all evil and to accompany you with His blessing. I ask you to pray for me, as I assure you of my prayers for you, confident that we can deepen [our] ties of mutual esteem and friendship.”
On Sunday, Christian pilgrims from around the world marked Easter in Jerusalem, where Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead on Easter.
Pope Francis used his first Easter Sunday address to call for peace in the world and appealed for a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
In his first “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message, Francis also called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, an end to the civil war in Syria, and political solutions to conflicts in several African countries.
The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, who has made defence of nature an early hallmark of his pontificate, also condemned the “iniquitous exploitation of natural resources” and urged everyone to be “guardians” of creation.
Francis delivered his message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica - the same spot from where he first appeared to the world as pope after his election on March 13 - to a crowd estimated by the Vatican at at least 250,000 people.
“Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow,” he said, speaking in Italian.
North Korea said on Saturday it was entering a “state of war” with South Korea. Tensions have been high since the North’s new young leader Kim Jong-un ordered a third nuclear weapons test in February, breaching U.N. sanctions and ignoring warnings from North Korea’s sole major ally, China, not to do so.
Francis, who has brought a more simple and personal style to the papacy, said the message of Easter is that faith can help people transform their lives by letting “those desert places in our hearts bloom”.
GUARDIANS OF CREATION
“How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbour, when we fail to realise that we are guardians of all that the creator has given us and continues to give us,” he said.
Earlier, at a Mass in a square bedecked by more than 40,000 plants and flowers, the pope wore relatively simple white vestments, as opposed to his predecessor Benedict, who preferred more elaborate robes.
The huge crowd spilled out of St. Peter’s Square and into surrounding streets and included many who had come to see a pope they hope could give a new start to a Church that has been marred by scandals involving sexual abuse of children and allegations of corruption.
“It’s a new pope and new beginning,” said Tina Hughes, 67, who came to Rome with her family from Nottingham, England to see the pope. “I think he brings something special. He connects with people. I feel good about him.”
Francis, who took his name in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, who is revered as a symbol of austerity and the importance of the natural world, said:
“Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century.
“Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources! Peace to this our Earth! May the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation.”
Easter Sunday, the day Christians believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead three days after his crucifixion, was the culmination of four hectic days of activity for the pope, during which he instituted several novelties.
On Holy Thursday, two women were included among the 12 people whose feet he washed and kissed during a traditional ceremony that had previously been open only to men.
Francis is still living in the same Vatican guesthouse where he stayed during the conclave that elected him the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, instead of moving into the regal papal apartments in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
He has also been inviting ordinary people to his morning Mass at the guesthouse, including Vatican street sweepers and gardeners.