Pope Benedict XVI leads Easter Vigil
( dpa )- Pope Benedict XVI lead the traditional Easter Vigil late Saturday in Rome's St Peter's Basilica, including the administering of Roman Catholic sacraments to several converts, among them an Italian journalist and former self-described "moderate Muslim".
In his homily, Benedict described Jesus' love for mankind in terms of a light which has vanquished the darkness of sin and death.
The 80-year-old pontiff presided over the opening "blessing of the fire" rite and the lighting of the Easter Candle in the Basilica's atrium before tens of thousands of faithful gathered in St Peter's Square on a cold, wet night.
The large candle was then carried into the darkened Basilica, an act symbolizing the "Light" of Christ's resurrection illuminating the world.
"Through his radical love for us, in which the heart of God and the heart of man touched, Jesus Christ truly took light from heaven and brought it to the earth - the light of truth and the fire of love that transform man's being. He brought the light, and now we know who God is and what God is like," Benedict said in his homily.
During the ceremony Benedict also administered the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and First Communion to seven converts - five women and two men - including nationals from Cameroon, China, the United States and Peru.
Among them was the Egyptian-born Magdi Allam, a deputy editor for the Corriere della Sera who is under police protection in Italy in the wake of threats from Muslim extremists.
Allam, who has described himself as a "moderate Muslim," has been outspoken in condemning what he has said is Italy's and Europe's inability to thwart the spread of radical Islam.
In a surprise announcement less than an hour before the start of the Easter Vigil ceremony, the Vatican said that Allam, a well-known public figure in Italy, would be part of the group of converts. Italy's main state television newscast RAI TG UNO interrupted its schedule to report the announcement.
The pope traditionally administers sacraments, including baptism, confirmation and First Communion to converts during the solemn Easter Vigil.
But a leading member of Italy's Islamic community Yahya Pallavicini was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency that while he "respected" Allam's choice to convert, he was "perplexed" by the decision to formalize the process at "an event of such great symbolic and spectacular value," as Easter vigil.
Benedict is scheduled to celebrate the third Easter Mass of his pontificate on Sunday in St Peter's Square, where he will also impart his traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing and message "to the city and the world".