Pope Francis calls for 'peace in the Holy Land'

Pope Francis washes the feet of Nigerian prisoners in the spirit of Good Friday

The Vatican has scrambled to clarify comments made by Pope Francis to a well-known Italian journalist that appeared to deny the existence of hell. Seemingly going against centuries of core Christian belief, Pope Francis said the souls of sinners simply vanished after death and were not subject to an eternity of punishment.

Easter should be a time for hope in a world "marked by so many acts of injustice and violence", Pope Francis said today.

For the sixth year running, the pope held the ritual in an institution rather than in the splendours of the Vatican or a Rome basilica, as his predecessors did. Where are they punished?

Pope Francis included special prayers for "those children who, as a result of wars and hunger, grow up without hope, lacking education and health care; and to those elderly persons who are cast off by a selfish culture that ostracizes those who are not 'productive'".

Pope Francis: "They are not punished, those who repent obtain God's forgiveness and join the ranks of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and can not therefore be forgiven disappear".

"There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls", Pope Francis reportedly said.

With controversial headlines swirling across the globe, this afternoon Vatican press spokesman Greg Burke issued a statement confirming the Pope had "recently received the founder of the daily La Repubblica in a private meeting for Easter", but said he hadn't granted him "an interview".

The pope's weighty position on hell prompted Peter Kreeft, a renowned Boston College theologian, to question the interview's veracity.

According to reports, it is the fourth time in the pope's five year papacy that he has celebrated the Holy Mass in an Italian jail.

Scalfari: Does [Jesus' Passion and Death] come from Adam and Eve's expulsion from their earthly Paradise, from their exile to the earth where we have lived since then? "If there's no valley, the mountain isn't very high". Scratch the doctrine of hell and you find the possibility of free will underneath it.

Francis's reported views of hell and the limited response from the Vatican kicked up a firestorm among some conservative Catholics.

"They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and can not therefore be forgiven disappear", Pope Francis said, according to a translation on Catholic blog Rorate Caeli.

But the pope's questioning lands him in good company.

It speaks of "eternal fire" and adds that "the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God".

"Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures", Pope Francis said in 2017.

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