By Holly Yan and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
(CNN) — Dressed in white, Pope Francis greeted a sea of Catholics carrying flags from around the world Sunday in his first Easter Mass as pope.
Shortly after the Mass at St. Peter’s Square, Francis delivered his Urbi et Orbi — “to the city and the world” — blessing from his papal balcony in the Vatican.
The pope asked “the risen Jesus, who turns death into life,” for peace in beleaguered parts of the world.
He asked for peace in the Middle East, particularly between Israelis and Palestinians “who struggle to find the road of agreement … to end a conflict that has lasted all too long.”
He also called for peace for Syrians — both those devastated by violence in the country and refugees in need of help — and asked for harmony in Mali, the Central African Republic and on the Korean Peninsula.
The pope was elected almost three weeks ago, succeeding Benedict XVI. A former Argentine cardinal, he became the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.
Already, Francis has repeatedly veered from tradition. Three days ago, on Holy Thursday, he went to a youth detention center in Rome — rather than the city’s chief cathedral — and washed the feet of a dozen young detainees.
Among the group at the Casal del Marmo were two females and two Muslims.
The pontiff poured water over the young offenders’ feet, wiped them with a white towel and kissed them. In his homily, given to about 50 young offenders, he said everyone should help one another.
“As a priest and as a bishop, I should be at your service. It is a duty that comes from my heart,” he said.
The act of foot-washing is part of the Christian tradition that mirrors Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet.
Francis’ decision to include two females — an Italian and an Eastern European — in the ceremony disturbed some traditionalists, who believe the 12 people should reflect the 12 male Apostles.
The Vatican Press Office responded Friday to “questions and concerns” related to the pope’s washing the young offenders’ feet, calling it a “simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy.”
“When Jesus washed the feet of those who were with him on the first Holy Thursday, he desired to teach all a lesson about the meaning of service, using a gesture that included all members of the community,” the office said in a statement. “… To have excluded the young women from the ritual washing of feet … would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday gospel, and the very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society.”
CNN’s Jim Bittermann contributed to this report.