Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Easter Mass
( dpa ) - Pope Benedict XVI marked Easter Sunday Mass in St Peter s Square with a message that called for the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Tibet.
"Dear brothers and sisters! Let us allow the light that streams forth from this solemn day to enlighten us; let us open ourselves in sincere trust to the risen Christ, so that his victory over evil and death may also triumph in each one of us, in our families, in our cities and in our nations," the pontiff said.
"How can we fail to remember certain African regions, such as Dafur and Somalia, the tormented Middle East, especially the Holy Land, Iraq, Lebanon, and finally Tibet, all of whom I encourage to seek solutions that will safeguard peace and the common good!"
Benedict told the faithful gathered in the square and those following the ceremony in the 57 countries where it was being broadcast on television.
During the Mass the pontiff wore a golden embroidered cope, or mantle once worn by Pope Benedict XV, whose 1914-22 pontificate was marked by World War I - a conflict which that pope had tried in vain to bring to an end through mediation.
"May the grace and joy of the Risen Christ be with you all," Benedict said in his Easter greeting which he repeated in 63 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Swahili and his native German.
He then ended the ceremony with the delivery of his traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing "to the city and the world" which was followed by applause and cheering from the tens of thousands of people packed the famous Roman square despite the cold, wet conditions.
The ceremony brought to a climax four days of intensive Easter- related commemorations involving the 80-year-old pontiff, leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
Benedict presided over a Easter Vigil inside the Vatican Basilica late on Saturday and the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession around the Coliseum on Good Friday, opting out however from his scheduled carrying of a wooden cross for a portion of the walk.
The theme of religious freedom dominated the Via Crucis proceedings which were accompanied by meditations penned by outspoken Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, a key figure for Asian Catholics including those in China who are split between a Beijing-sanctioned church and an underground Catholic community loyal to the pope.
At the Easter Vigil ceremony Benedict administered sacraments to seven converts, including baptism rites to a well-known Italian journalist and former self-described "moderate Muslim," Magdi Allam.
The surprise inclusion of the Egyptian-born Allam - who has been under police protection since 2003 following threats, allegedly from Muslim extremists - among the group prompted one prominent Italian Muslim leader to question the Vatican's decision to handle the conversion in such a high-profile way.
The Vatican in its relations with Muslims has repeatedly stressed for reciprocity, urging respect for people to convert to Christianity and for Christians to worship freely in majority Muslim nations.
Many Muslims view abandoning Islam for another faith as apostasy, with some saying it should be punishable by death.
Benedict began the Easter-related commemoration on Holy Thursday when he washed the feet of 12 priests in a traditional gesture commemorating Jesus' act of humility with the disciples at the Last Supper.