Pope Francis rebuked the Russian aggression against Ukraine on Saturday during a vigil Mass on the occasion of Easter.
Although he attended the vigil, he did not preside over it, possibly due to the leg pain that has forced him to cut back on his recent activities.
The Mass was attended by Melitopol’s mayor Ivan Fedorov, who was detained by Russian troops last month and was later released through a prisoner exchange.
Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re took over as the main celebrant at the Mass to replace the pope. The service consisted of a procession up the central nave of Christendom’s biggest church.
The pope, who sat in a big white chair at the front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, looked observant and stood up during the gospel’s reading.
After reading his homily and standing to baptize seven adult converts, the pope paused his prepared address to acknowledge the presence of Fedorov, his family members and three parliamentarians of Ukraine who sat in the front.
He spoke of the “darkness of war, of cruelty.”
“All of us pray for you and with you. We pray because there is so much suffering. We can only give you our company, our prayers and say to you ‘courage, we accompany you,'” he said.
The pope concluded by saying “Christ is risen” in Ukrainian.
According to the Vatican, Pope Francis privately met with the Ukrainian delegation before the service.
The Mass, attended by over 5,500 people, consisted of long periods of standing during readings and chantings- the key reason why the pope did not preside over the event.
The 85-year-old suffers from a medical condition known as sciatica. The condition causes pain in one leg and often leads to limping. Recently, the pope has also experienced pain in his right knee.