Pope urges Middle East peace effort

Benedict XVI calls for renewed efforts to resolve conflict in his Easter message.

    The pope addressed tens of thousands of people at the Basilica in St Peter's Square [AFP]

    'Cry of victory'

    The pope also said in his message, delivered as Christians around the world commemorated Jesus Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday, that all those fearful of losing their jobs during the economic crisis should not lose hope.

    "At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of poverty ... it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope," the pontiff said.

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

    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 II visited in 2000 and, at Jerusalem's Western Wall, asked God forgiveness for offences by Christians against Jews over the centuries.

    'Stay hopeful'

    It follows the worst crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations in half a century after Benedict lifted the excommunication of British Bishop Richard Williamson.

    Williamson said in January that no more than 300,000 Jews lost their lives 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 camps.

    The Easter celebrations at the Vatican took place nearly a week after a devastating earthquake killed at least 293 people in the Italian town of L'Aquila.

    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, which made nearly 40,000 people homeless.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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