Amid health concerns, Pope Francis delivers strong Easter message calling for Gaza cease-fire

The appearance came after the pontiff decided to reduce his participation in two major Holy Week events, seemingly at the last minute.

(Andrew Medichini | AP) Pope Francis meets the members of the 2023 World Youth Day organizing committee, in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.

Rome • Amid renewed concerns about his health, Pope Francis presided over Easter Sunday Mass, and with a hoarse but strong voice, he delivered a major annual message that touched on conflicts across the world, with explicit appeals for peace in Israel, the Gaza Strip and Ukraine.

The appearance came after the 87-year-old pope decided to reduce his participation in two major Holy Week events, seemingly at the last minute.

Those decisions seemed to represent a new phase in a more than 11-year papacy throughout which Francis has made the acceptance of the limits that challenge and shape humanity a constant theme. Now, he seems to have entered a period in which he is himself scaling back to observe, and highlight, the limits imposed by his own health constraints and to conserve strength for the most critical moments.

On Sunday after the Mass, Francis took a prolonged spin in his popemobile around St. Peter’s Square before ascending to a balcony overlooking it to deliver his traditional Easter message.

“Let us not allow the strengthening winds of war to blow on Europe and the Mediterranean,” he said to the tens of thousands of faithful, dignitaries, Swiss Guards and clergy.

Referring to the stone that had blocked the tomb of Jesus before his resurrection, which Easter celebrates, Francis said that “today, too, great stones, heavy stones, block the hopes of humanity.”

“The stone of war, the stone of humanitarian crises, the stone of human rights violations, the stone of human trafficking and other stones as well,” he said.

The address was a compendium of Francis’ priorities, including the need to ease the suffering of people affected by war, natural disasters and famine in parts of the world he has visited. He addressed the plight of migrants, prayed for “consolation and hope” for the poor, and spoke against human trafficking and arms dealing.

Holy Week is one of the most demanding and significant on the Christian calendar, and Francis has been dogged all winter by what the Vatican has called the flu, bronchitis and coldlike symptoms. His doctor told the Italian news media Saturday that Francis was in good shape for his age, but that flu season was difficult for him.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.