Pope Francis (file photo)
Pope Francis has led an international prayer service for peace in Ukraine and other places stricken by war.
The 85-year-old pope visited the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and prayed before the statue of Mary Queen of Peace, a work commissioned in 1918 to ask God to end World War I.
Worshippers in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, and other countries were connected by video as Catholics around the world were asked to pray simultaneously. About 1,000 attended the service in Rome, including the Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican and a number of people wearing the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. Before praying the rosary, Francis asked Mary, revered in Christianity as the mother of God, to "reconcile hearts that are full of violence and vendetta." Francis, who has made numerous appeals for peace in Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in February, is suffering from knee pain and participated in the service sitting in a wheelchair. The Vatican said earlier on May 31 that Pope Francis will travel to Kazakhstan in September for an interfaith conference. The meeting may present a chance for Francis to meet with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has backed Russia's war in Ukraine. The Kazakh government is hosting the congress on September 14-15 in the capital, Nur-Sultan. Kirill has been invited and the Moscow Patriarchate has said he would attend. The Vatican confirmed that Francis had also decided to attend in a statement marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Kazakhstan.