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VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI urged an end to fighting in Libya, using his Easter Sunday message to call for diplomacy and peace in the Middle East.
Benedict also said that politics in North Africa and the Middle East should be based on respect for all.
“In the current conflict in Libya, may diplomacy and dialogue replace arms, and may those who suffer as a result of the conflict be given access to humanitarian aid,” he said.
Referring to northern Africa and the Middle East, the pope prayed for the realization of a society where “every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person.”
Benedict celebrated Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square, packed with pilgrims and tourists and awash in the bright colors of spring flowers as he marked the church’s most joyous day of the year. Christians worldwide on Easter recall Jesus’ resurrection, a sign of eternal life, following his crucifixion.
But while “in heaven, all is peace and gladness,” Benedict said in his message delivered after the Mass from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, “alas, it is not so on earth,” as he lamented hunger, disease, war and violence.
He prayed for people in the Middle East, “so that the light of peace and of human dignity may overcome the darkness of division, hate and violence.”
“In all the countries of northern Africa and the Middle East, may all citizens, especially young people, work to promote the common good and to build a society where poverty is defeated and every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person,” the pope said.
Europe has been split over whether to accept or deport tens of thousands of migrants, many of them from Libya and elsewhere in northern Africa, who have been flooding European shores to flee unrest and bloodshed.
Benedict rallied to the side of the refugee, saying, “may people of good will open their hearts to welcome them.”
His “Urbi et Orbi” message to the city of Rome and the world also called for Ivory Coast to “tread the path of reconciliation and pardon.” He also prayed that Japan find consolation as it reels from the devastation from an earthquake and tsunami.
While choir voices rang out across the cobblestone square in late morning Mass, thousands of more people were still arriving, filling the boulevard leading from the Tiber to the Vatican, and by the time the pope delivered his speech, well over 100,000 people had thronged to the area.
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Resplendent in gold-colored robes, Benedict led the ceremony from an altar set up on the steps of the basilica, under a red canopy to shield him from rain or sun. Skies over the Vatican alternated between clouds and peeks of sun.
The 84-year-old Benedict looked relaxed, although his voice cracked a bit as he intoned prayers during the sung parts of the Mass. His voice had sounded hoarse at times the previous evening, when the pope led a late-night Easter Vigil Mass lit by candles in the basilica.
On Sunday, the square was bedecked with rows of flowers in full bloom and tourists waving scarves and flags from their homelands.
The blossoms seemed almost as numerous as the faithful. The Dutch suppliers of the floral decorations said about 41,000 potted plants lined the square. The flowers included 500 potted hyacinths, 150 lily plants, 1,000 off-white roses, azaleas, tulips, and 10,000 narcissus plants, many of them in yellow and white, the official Vatican colors, and arranged in neat, rows up the slope toward the altar.
Benedict prayed aloud that Easter would help believers testify to their faith with “words and life.” Shoring up flagging faith in much of the Western world has been a key goal of the Vatican, both under Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II.
Benedict will return to the square in exactly one week to lead a crowd expected to be at least double Easter’s turnout when he beatifies John Paul, putting the Polish-born, long-serving pontiff on the last formal step before eventual sainthood.