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From Russia To Rome, Christians Celebrate Easter

Christians in Jerusalem pray outside the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the burial place of Jesus (epa) April 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Millions of Christians worldwide are celebrating Easter weekend, the climax of the Christian year.

Thousands of faithful holding candles joined Pope Benedict XVI on the evening of April 6 for the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, procession.

The ceremony around Rome's ancient Coliseum reenacts Jesus Christ's last journey before he was crucified on what Christians call Good Friday.

Easter is the most important feast on the Christian calendar. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, which his followers believe occurred on the third day after his death by crucifixion some time around A.D. 30.

This year, Christianity's two main branches - Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy - celebrate Easter on the same day. That only happens about once every two or three years, depending on a complex calculation derived from different calendars used by the Western and Eastern churches.

A Time To Heal Wounds

With all Christians celebrating this year's holiday on the same day, there have been processions and prayer services around the world, from Jerusalem to East Timor, from Rome to Russia.

For many, Easter is a chance to heal wounds -- and seek peace.

In the Holy Land, Christians from around the world gathered in Jerusalem to take part in a Via Crucis ceremony ahead of Easter Sunday.

The Good Friday procession in Rome on April 6 (epa)

The pilgrims were sign of peace in a land where conflict between Palestinians and Israelis show few signs of abating.

"You know, 2,000 years back [Jesus] was crucified," one Indian pilgrim named Denis said. "So we want to [recall] the same things and we want to live life like Jesus."

In troubled East Timor, in the Pacific, leaders have pointed to Easter's message of peace in hopes of avoiding violence ahead of the presidential elections on April 9.

Improving East-West Relations

In Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church on April 6 sent his personal Easter greetings to the pope, who has worked to repair frayed relations between the two churches.

Patriarch Aleksy II has accused the Vatican of proselytising in predominantly Orthodox Russia. But there have been signs of improving relations between the two churches, which split nearly 1,000 years ago.

Some of the biggest Easter celebrations take part in heavily Catholic Latin America and Spain.

In the Spanish city of Merida, the faithful took part in their own Via Crucis ceremony -- also around the ruins of an ancient stadium built by the Romans, who crucified Christ.

Francisco Carrillo, a director of the proceedings, spoke from the center of the ancient stadium.

"The setting here is marvelous," Carrillo said. "Everything is real; there is no fiction here. I believe that anything that you put on here will automatically leave you with a great feeling. This place is uniquely magical."

Back in Rome, Pope Benedict delivered his own message of peace -- one aimed particularly at women around the world.

The German-born pope urged people to be sensitive to people's suffering. The service lamented the pain and abuse of women across the world.

Benedict on April 8 is due to an Urbi et Orbi blessing and message.

(with material from AFP, Reuters, AP)

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