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On Easter, pope laments ‘slaughter’ in Iraq

In an Easter litany of the world’s suffering, Pope Benedict XVI lamented that “nothing positive” is happening in Iraq and decried the unrest in Afghanistan and bloodshed in Africa and Asia.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In an Easter litany of the world’s suffering, Pope Benedict XVI lamented that “nothing positive” is happening in Iraq and decried the unrest in Afghanistan and bloodshed in Africa and Asia.

“How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world,” the pontiff told tens of thousands gathered Sunday at St. Peter’s Square on what is Christianity’s most joyful feast day.

Benedict, delivering his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Easter address from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, read out a long list of troubling current events, saying he was thinking of the “terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons.”

“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, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.”

He singled out what he called the “catastrophic, and sad to say, underestimated humanitarian situation” in Darfur as well as other African places of suffering, including violence and looting in Congo, fighting in Somalia — which, he said, drove away the prospect of peace — and the “grievous crisis” in Zimbabwe, marked by crackdowns on dissidents, a disastrous economy and severe corruption.

Benedict called for a negotiated solution to end the drawn-out, bloody conflict in Sri Lanka, and said East Timor needs reconciliation ahead of elections.

Earlier he celebrated Easter Mass on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica under hazy sunshine.

The voices of choir boys rang across the square. Wearing golden vestments, the pope gripped a slender, silver crucifix as clerics sprinkled incense across the steps.

The altar area was ablaze with color — red tulips, orange tiger lilies and yellow broom plants were among the flowers delivered from the Netherlands — and at the end of the service the pope thanked the Dutch for the gift.

Eastern, Western rites coincided
In an unusual touch for the Vatican’s Easter Mass, black-robed clerics intoned a long chant from the Byzantine liturgy. This year, Eastern and Western celebrations coincided. The two rites often celebrate Easter on different dates because of different church calendars.

Orthodox faithful in the Balkans, in Russia, in Greece and other places celebrated Easter with long, traditional ceremonies. Russia made an exception to its cutoff of transport links with George to allow three charter flights of Georgians to come to Moscow for the Easter period.

Benedict ended his appearance by giving Easter greetings in dozens of languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, and giving the crowd his apostolic blessing.

After Sunday’s events, Benedict heads to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, in the Alban Hills south of Rome, for a few days of rest.

When he returns to Rome, Benedict has two important dates on his calendar: his 80th birthday on April 16, and the second anniversary of his election as pope three days later.

Advocates pressing for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty marched peacefully through Rome, ending their rally in St. Peter’s Square near the end of the pope’s Mass. Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said he was marching because “it happens many times that an innocent life is taken” by capital punishment.