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Pope, At Easter, Calls For Israel-Palestinian Peace

Pope Benedict (file photo)

Pope Benedict (file photo)

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Pope Benedict called in his Easter message on April 12 for a renewed push for Israeli-Palestinian peace just weeks before he travels to the Holy Land for the first time as pontiff.

The pope also sent greetings to survivors of Italy's devastating earthquake and urged all those fearful of their futures, for whatever reason, not to lose hope.

"At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope," said the pontiff, wearing cream and gold-coloured vestments.

The pope celebrated an Easter Mass for tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter's Square as Christians around the world commemorated Jesus Christ's resurrection.

At the morning Mass, the pope told the faithful that the resurrection was a "cry of victory that unites us all today."

Then, in his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address, the pope said he would carry a message of reconciliation on his May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land.

"Reconciliation -- difficult, but indispensable -- is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence," the pope said.

"It can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The German pope, who turns 82 this month, will visit the Jordanian capital Amman before heading for Jerusalem and Nazareth in Israel, and Palestinian-ruled Bethlehem.

It will be the first trip by a pope to the Holy Land since Pope John Paul visited in 2000 and, at Jerusalem's Western Wall, asked God forgiveness for offences by Christians against Jews over the centuries.

It follows the worst crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations in half a century after Benedict lifted the excommunication of British Bishop Richard Williamson, who said in January no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the six million figure widely accepted by historians.

Williamson also said he did not believe there had been any gas chambers at the concentration camps.

The Easter celebrations at the Vatican took place at a time when many Italians have shifted their attention to victims of the April 6 devastating earthquake, which killed at least 293 people.

The pope, who says he plans to visit the disaster zone in nearby Abruzzo region soon, sent out greetings to those "suffering from the earthquake". On Good Friday, he prayed that survivors remain hopeful despite the tragedy.

The earthquake made nearly 40,000 people homeless.