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Pope urges peace in Syria, Koreas

| Sunday, March 31, 2013, 7:06 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis marked Christianity's most joyous day with a passionate plea for world peace, celebrating his first Easter Sunday as pontiff in the enthusiastic company of more than 250,000 people who overflowed from St. Peter's Square.

With physical gestures, he illustrated the personal, down-to-earth tone he brings as a pastor to this new papacy — cradling a disabled child held out to him in the crowd and delightedly accepting a surprise gift thrust at him.

Francis shared in his flock's exuberance as they celebrated Christianity's core belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. After Mass in flower-bedecked St. Peter's Square (Francis thanked florists from the Netherlands for donating the blooms), he stepped aboard an open-topped, white popemobile for a cheerful spin through pathways in the joyous crowd, kissing babies, smiling constantly and patting children on the head.

One admirer of both the pope and his favorite soccer team from his Argentine homeland, Saints of San Lorenzo, insisted that Francis take a team jersey he was waving at the pontiff — “take it, go ahead, take it,” the man seemed to be telling the pope. Finally, a delighted Francis obliged, briefly holding up the shirt, and the crowd roared in approval. He handed the shirt to an aide in the front seat, and the popemobile continued its whirl through the square.

The Roman Catholic leader aimed his Easter greetings at “every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons.” Francis prayed that Jesus would inspire people to “change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”

He urged Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks and end a conflict that “has lasted all too long.” And, in reflecting on the two-year-old Syrian crisis, Francis asked, “How much suffering must there still be before a political solution” can be found?

The pope also expressed desire for a “spirit of reconciliation” on the Korean peninsula.

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