VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis led pilgrims in prayers for peace as tensions between the United States and Iran escalated following the assassination of a top Iranian general. Several days after Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, warned of “harsh retaliation” for the Jan. 3 U.S. drone attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the pope said that “a terrible air of tension is felt in many parts of the world. War only brings death and destruction. I call on all parties to keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-control and avoid the shadow of enmity,” the pope said after praying the Angelus prayer with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 5. He then led the pilgrims in a moment of silent prayer so “that the Lord may give us the grace” of peace. The attack came two days after the World Day of Peace and the pope’s release of his annual message for the day. (See Cardinal Cupich’s reflection on the message on page 3.) Speaking to Vatican News Jan. 3, Archbishop Leo Boccardi, apostolic nuncio to Iran, said the assassination “creates apprehension and shows us how difficult it is to build and believe in peace.” “The appeal is to lower tension, to call everyone to negotiation and to believe in dialogue knowing that, has history has always shown us, that war and weapons aren’t the solution to the problems afflicting the world today,” Archbishop Boccardi said.