- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

ROME — From Moscow to Washington, Rome to Jerusalem, Christians of the Orthodox and Western faiths celebrated Easter, prayed for a better future and relished ancient rituals on the same day, thanks to an infrequent overlap in their religious calendars.

The alignment of the Easter calendars, based on equinox and moon phases, occurs every few years, and this year’s coincidence made the narrow streets in the Holy Land especially crowded.

At the Vatican, the Eastern Christian celebrations of Easter resounded across the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica when black-robed clerics intoned a long chant from the Byzantine liturgy during Pope Benedict XVI’s outdoor Mass for tens of thousands of faithful.

Benedict, head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, tempered his message about Easter joy with a litany of suffering in the world today, including what he decried as “continual slaughter” in Iraq and bloodshed in parts of Africa and Asia.

In Washington, a dawn crowd gathered for an Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial. Bundled in blankets, scarves and hats, the worshippers sang “God Bless America” as the sun’s rays glimmered on the Reflecting Pool.

In San Francisco, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and led a pre-dawn crowd of more than 200 up Mount Davidson, the city’s highest peak, which is topped with a 103-foot concrete cross. Pastors from churches of several denominations led prayers for soldiers in Iraq.

Bethany Baptist Church in Boulder, Colo., used graffiti, nails and an interactive prayer labyrinth with nine stations to tell the story of the Crucifixion. Pastor Rob Stout said labyrinths were created in the Middle Ages as a way of symbolizing the journey to Jerusalem.

“Graffiti has an interesting history to it. I call it vandalism. Some call it art. We wanted to use it because the story of the Passion and the Crucifixion of Christ is a very raw story,” Mr. Stout said.

After weeks of Lenten sacrifice and fasting in preparation for Easter, many Christians in Eastern Europe enjoyed holiday meals, including brightly colored hard-boiled eggs and various sweetbreads. Roast lamb was featured on many tables in the Balkans, as well as in Italy.

Cries of “Christ is risen” went up in Macedonia after midnight, when priests symbolically announced Jesus’ victory over death. Archbishop Stephen of Ohrid, head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, called for peace “in our homeland and among all the people in the world.”

While Christians are a tiny minority in Turkey, for historical reasons the Orthodox patriarchate has its home in Istanbul, ancient Constantinople. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 200 million Orthodox, is based there.

Most of the worshippers packing the Church of St. George at a Saturday night Easter vigil service were visitors from Greece.

Benedict has been pushing for greater unity among Christians, especially between Rome and the Orthodox world. Tensions between Orthodox, especially in Russia, and the Vatican kept the late Pope John Paul II from realizing his desire to visit Moscow.

In his message for Easter, Benedict said suffering around the world puts faith to the test.

“How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world,” the pontiff said in his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” literally, “to the City [of Rome] and to the World” — address from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. He denounced terrorism and kidnappings, and “the thousand faces of violence, which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion,” as well as human rights violations.

“Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability,” Benedict said. “In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, unfortunately, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.”

He also had harsh words about the “underestimated humanitarian situation” in the Darfur region of Sudan, as well as other African places of suffering. These included violence and looting in Congo, fighting in Somalia, and the “grievous crisis” in Zimbabwe, marked by crackdowns on dissidents, a disastrous economy and severe corruption.

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