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World: Pope Issues Easter Call To Resolve International Standoffs

Pope Benedict XVI delivers the "Urbi et Orbi" message on April 16 (AFP) As Christians all over the world marked Easter on April 16, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated high mass and gave the traditional Easter address and blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. The pope celebrated Easter vigil mass on April 15, calling the resurrection of Jesus Christ the "most crucial leap into a totally new dimension." This Easter marks the first for the 1.1 billion-member Catholic Church since the death of Pope John Paul II.

PRAGUE, April 16, 2006 -- Pope Benedict called for an "honorable solution" to the nuclear standoff with Iran, a truly independent Palestinian state, and global cooperation to combat terrorism.

The pontiff made his appeal in his Easter "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and to the world") message from the loggia of St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican to nearly 100,000 people as he concluded the first Easter season of his pontificate.

Touching On Current Themes

The pope urged the international community to negotiate with Iran to assure peace in the Middle East. "Concerning the international crises linked to nuclear power, may an honorable solution be found for all parties, through serious and honest negotiations," he urged.

Benedict also defended Israel's right to live in peace while calling on the international community to help the Palestinian people build their future. "May the international community, which reaffirms Israel's just right to exist in peace, assist the Palestinian people to overcome the precarious conditions in which they live and to build their future, moving toward the constitution of a state which is truly their own," Benedict said.

He also called on leaders of nations and of international organizations to work for peaceful coexistence among races, cultures, and religions "to remove the threat of terrorism."

Benedict expressed the hope that Italy will regain its serenity once final official results are announced next week from the country's elections, which the opposition coalition led by Romano Prodi won by a small margin.

Religious Rites

Western-rite Christian churches around the world were celebrating April 16 as the day of Jesus Christ's resurrection after his crucifixion on Good Friday (this year on April 14). The Eastern-rite Christian Orthodox churches celebrate Easter one week later.

Late on April 15, Benedict presided over a vigil inside St. Peter's Basilica. He called the resurrection of Christ the "most crucial leap into a totally new dimension." He described the resurrection as having been like "an explosion of light" and urged Catholics to let the risen Christ help them transform a world of violence and corruption.
Catholics in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, held the traditional candlelight vigil in the Church of the Nativity on April 15.

The Church of the Nativity is built above a cave that is believed to have been the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Last year, Easter celebrations were overshadowed by Pope John Paul II's deteriorating health. The Polish-born pontiff could barely speak when he greeted pilgrims massed in St. Peter's square, and a cardinal delivered his Easter message. John Paul II died six days later, on April 2.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the commutation of all death sentences to life imprisonment as her predominantly Catholic country marked Easter Sunday. The order would spare the lives of 1,205 convicts currently on death row.

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