On Sunday, Pope Francis led the Vatican's traditional Easter Sunday Mass in Rome. Tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets, amid tight security checkpoints and bright flowers, according to the Associated Press. As the Catholic Church and Christians around the world celebrated the holy day, Pope Francis' Easter message about Syrian refugees offered a poignant contrast to the colorful and celebratory scene at the Vatican.
The pope stood upon the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to deliver his Easter sermon. CNN estimated the crowd to be 60,000 listeners strong. For those listeners, and for leaders around the world, the pope had a powerful message.
As Pope Francis called for peace around the world, he prayed specifically for the ongoing violence in Syria to come to an end, calling an attack on Saturday that killed more than 100 refugees "despicable." As he spoke, he reminded listeners that the Church is on the side of the refugees. As much as they were a prayer, the pope's words also came across as a lesson.
According to World Vision, some 11 million Syrians have been displaced by the civil war since 2011. Over the course of the last six years, these people have become refugees, unsafe in their own homes. Thanks to dangerous journeys and unwelcome borders, many have struggled to find a safe place to take refuge.
On Easter Sunday, the pope clearly wants his audience — and world leaders — to think about these refugees. What makes his message so poignant, at least here in the U.S., is the hesitancy of some leaders to welcome refugees as the Church encourages. President Trump has formally tried twice since his inauguration to ban individuals from Syria entering the U.S. His so-called "travel bans" are reminiscent of the rhetoric he employed during his presidential campaign, calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
Easter Sunday wasn't the first time Pope Francis had referenced refugees. Without naming any country in particular, the pope in February called it a "moral imperative" to protect refugees. It also wasn't the first time the pope called for "building bridges." In a weekly statement from the Vatican earlier this year, the pope reportedly said, "In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls, but to build bridges." It would seem Trump's plan for a border wall also contradicts the Church's guidance.
As it should, separation of church and state keeps Trump unfettered to the pope's directives. But, the pope certainly isn't alone in his views. At each turn, Trump's travel bans and immigration policies have been met with vehement protest by his constituents. Above all else, the pope's Easter message was a timely and appropriate call for peace and an end to deep divisions.