Sunday, April 16, 2006

VATICAN CITY — In his first Easter message as pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI urged nations to use diplomacy to defuse nuclear crises — a clear reference to worries over Iran — and prayed that Palestinians one day would have their own state alongside Israel.

On Christianity’s most joyous day — which happened to fall on Benedict’s 79th birthday — the pontiff also prayed for Iraq’s relentless violence to cease.

From the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Benedict reflected on the world’s troubled regions shortly after he celebrated Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square, which was packed with 100,000 pilgrims and tourists on a breezy, hazy day.

“Today, even in this modern age marked by anxiety and uncertainty, we relive the event of the Resurrection, which changed the face of our life and changed the history of humanity,” Benedict said in the traditional papal “Urbi et Orbi” message — Latin for “to the city and to the world.”

On Easter, Christians celebrate a core belief of their faith — that Jesus rose from the dead after His Crucifixion. Orthodox Christians in Russia and elsewhere will celebrate Easter on April 23.

Benedict made note of recent developments that have raised fears that Iran might be working toward building a nuclear arsenal.

“Concerning the international crises linked to nuclear power, may an honorable solution be found for all parties, through serious and honest negotiations,” he said without naming any country.

Pilgrims marking Easter also filled the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. The alleys were more crowded than in recent years, reflecting a drop in Palestinian-Israeli violence.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, who is the leading Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, celebrated Mass in the dark, incense-filled Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the spot where many Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross.

“This is like a dream come true for us to be here in the Holy Land,” said Rona Arida, 29, a Philippine worker in Israel, after praying with her friends at the church. “I prayed for all of my family back home.”

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