Pope calls for end to Iraq, Middle East conflicts

Monday, April 12, 2004

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II celebrated Easter Mass on Sunday with calls for world leaders to resolve conflicts in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Africa, as Christians around the world marked the holiest day on the church calendar.

John Paul delivered a message of peace on the flower-decked steps of St. Peter's Basilica, praying that hope would conquer the "inhuman" phenomenon of terrorism and urging Christians, Muslims and Jews to seek greater unity with each other.

"May the culture of life and love render vain the logic of death," he told tens of thousands of the faithful and tourists gathered in St. Peter's under tight security on an overcast day.

The 83-year-old pope delivered the message in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Easter address, Latin for "To the City and the World." He spoke clearly and strongly despite a grueling schedule of Holy Week ceremonies in recent days.

Easter marks the day, according to the Bible, that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified.

The joyous celebrations in Rome contrasted with the muted Easter festivities in Jerusalem, where a few hundred pilgrims and Palestinian Christians attended Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- built over the skull-shaped rocky mount believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified.

Attendance was also low at the Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Baghdad, where about 100 Chaldean Catholics celebrated Mass.

In Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, prayed for the victims of a Siberian methane blast that killed at least 40 coal miners.

And in London, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams -- spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion whose members also celebrated Easter on Sunday -- said the world must not forget those who die in often-ignored places like Africa.

Easter was festive in Greece, where Orthodox Christians set fireworks and flares at churches across the country.

This year, the holiday falls on the same day in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox calendars -- a coincidence John Paul mentioned when he expressed hope for more unity between the churches that have been split for 1,000 years.

"I pray to the risen Lord that all of us baptized may soon be able to together relive this fundamental feast of our faith each year on the same day," he said.

The head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Teoctist, echoed his call, saying there couldn't be "a more divine gift than the one that we celebrate Easter at the same time."

In Istanbul, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, said in his Easter message that the holiday was an occasion for hope despite religious fanaticism and the killing of innocent people in conflicts and war.

In his blessing, John Paul called for all the children of Abraham -- the Biblical patriarch considered the father of Christianity, Islam and Judaism -- to "rediscover the brotherhood that they share and that prompts in them designs of cooperation and peace."

He urged the faithful to find the courage to confront the many evils facing the world today.

"In particular, may (humanity) find the strength to face the inhuman and unfortunately growing phenomenon of terrorism, which rejects life and brings anguish and uncertainty to the daily lives of so many hardworking and peaceful people," he said.

"May world leaders be confirmed and sustained in their efforts to resolve satisfactorily the continuing conflicts that cause bloodshed in certain regions of Africa, Iraq and the Holy Land," he said.

John Paul has frequently used his Easter message to reflect on war, poverty and terrorism. His remarks this year appeared particularly directed to fresh violence in Iraq and hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians.

The pope was alert and spoke clearly throughout the Mass, though he struggled through a three-hour Easter Vigil a few hours before. John Paul, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, endured chilly night air Friday to preside over a reenactment of Christ's Passion at the Colosseum.

On Sunday, he laughed heartily when a toddler in Asian traditional dress struggled up the basilica steps to present offerings to him, and he drew cheers and applause when he delivered his annual Easter greetings in 62 languages.

Crowds were treated to an arrangement of pink tulips, yellow daffodils, ferns and apple blossoms in an arch on the steps around the altar.

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