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Easter services marked by pleas for peace
BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- Current events crept into traditional Easter Sunday services around the world, with pleas for peace in the Middle East, prayers for a recovering Afghanistan and encouragement for troops in the campaign against terrorism.
As warplanes roared over the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains, U.S. Army Chaplain Bob McMeekin, a Greek Orthodox priest, held services for about 120 American, British and Polish soldiers at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
He said the holiday should give hope after a tumultuous year.
"When we think about the events of Sept. 11 ... we think about the utter loss," McMeekin said.
"Jesus is symbolized here as the one who absorbed our loss."
In Vatican City, a frail Pope John Paul II offered prayers for the victims of years of fighting in Afghanistan and those affected by last week's earthquake, while condemning Mideast violence in his Easter Sunday message.
"In how many corners of the world do we hear the cry of those who implore help, because they are suffering and dying?" the 81-year-old pontiff said. "From Afghanistan, terribly afflicted in recent months and now stricken by a disastrous earthquake, to so many other countries around the world where social imbalances and rival ambitions still torment countless numbers of brothers and sisters."
Security was tight in four Italian cities -- Venice, Milan, Florence and Verona -- after a U.S. warning that Americans could be targeted by extremists there on Easter, but no attacks were reported.
Worshippers worldwide echoed the pope's concern over the latest violence in the Holy Land.
"We can feel at the moment how urgently our world needs the peace of Easter," Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the Roman Catholic German Bishops' Conference, said in Mainz.
Thousands of people turned out Saturday and Sunday for traditional pacifist Easter marches in more than 30 German cities.