War is 'folly,' pope says as he leads prayers for Ukraine, Gaza

Pope Francis speaks about the virtue of justice during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 3, 2024. (CNS photo/Pablo Esparza)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis held up a well-thumbed, camouflage-covered pocket edition of the New Testament and Psalms and a small fabric pouch containing a rosary.

He told people at his general audience April 3 that the Bible and rosary had belonged to 23-year-old Oleksandr, a Ukrainian soldier killed at Avdiivka. "He had his life ahead of him."

"Oleksandr read the New Testament and the Psalms and had underlined this from Psalm 129 (130): 'Out of the depths I call to you, Lord; Lord, hear my cry,'" the pope said.

Pope Francis asked the thousands of visitors and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square to observe a moment of silent prayer for "this young man and many others like him killed in this folly that is war. War always destroys. Let's think about them and pray."

The pope also spoke of his "profound sorrow" at the news that seven members of the humanitarian group World Central Kitchen were killed by Israeli strikes on their vehicles in Gaza April 1 "while they were working to distribute food aid."

World Central Kitchen said the seven killed included an Australian, a Pole, three British men working security, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada and a Palestinian.

"Despite coordinating movements with the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route," the organization said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised an investigation, describing the killings as a "tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people."

Pope Francis, speaking at the end of his general audience, said, "Once again I renew my firm call for an immediate cease-fire" in Gaza.

"I renew my appeal that access to humanitarian aid be allowed to reach the exhausted and suffering civil population," he said, "and that the hostages immediately be released" by Hamas, which kidnapped them from Israel in October.

"Any irresponsible attempts to widen the conflict in the region must be avoided," the pope said, and efforts must be made to end the fighting as soon as possible.

"Let us pray and work without tiring so that the weapons may be silenced, and peace may reign again," he said.


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