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Pope shows rosary of slain Ukrainian soldier, denounces ‘madness of war’

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ROME — Pope Francis led thousands in a moment of silence Wednesday to pray for aid workers killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza and for a young Ukrainian soldier named Oleksandr who was killed in “this madness of war.”

Francis again called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages taken in Israel on October 7 by Hamas. Praying for the families of the seven World Central Kitchen employees killed, he called for humanitarian aid to reach the people of Gaza and for all efforts to prevent the conflict from spreading.

At the end of his general audience, Francis also showed tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square the rosary and camouflaged New Testament book that a 23-year-old Ukrainian soldier named Oleksandr had with him when he was killed in Avdijevka, in the east of the country. .

They were reportedly given to Francis two weeks ago by Sister Lucia Caram, an Argentinian-born nun living in Spain who has led several humanitarian missions to Ukraine to bring aid and evacuate wounded soldiers.

According to a March 13 Instagram post, Caram said Francis became emotional during a private audience when she presented him with Oleksandr’s rosary and New Testament. She said Francis kissed the rosary that he himself had blessed once before for Caram to distribute in Ukraine.

“He urged me to continue. He gave me more rosaries to take to Ukraine,” she wrote at the time.

Showing off the items Wednesday, Francis flipped through the pages of Oleksandr’s underlined New Testament and said the young man still had a whole life ahead of him when he was killed.

He asked for a moment of silent prayer “thinking of this child and so many others like him, killed in this madness of war.”

Francis has previously shown other relics from the war in Ukraine, including a damaged Ukrainian flag recovered from Bucha, the site of early Russian atrocities.

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This story corrects the month to March instead of May.

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