VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI offered an Easter prayer on Sunday for diplomacy to prevail over warfare in Libya and for citizens of the Middle East to build a new society based on respect.
He also called on Europeans to welcome refugees from North Africa.
“In heaven, all is peace and gladness. But, alas, all is not so on Earth!” the Pope lamented as he delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to a crowd of more than 100,000 that overflowed from St. Peter’s Square.
“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 North Africa and the Middle East, the Pope prayed that all citizens, especially young people, would “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.”
Uprisings, repression, and civil warfare have triggered an exodus of people to Italy and other countries in the region. Europe has been split over whether to accept tens of thousands of migrants, many of them from Libya and elsewhere in northern Africa.
The Pope rallied to the refugees, urging people of good will to “open their hearts to welcome them.”
“Here, in this world of ours, the Easter alleluia still contrasts with the cries and laments that arise from so many painful situations: deprivation, hunger, disease, war, violence,” said the Pope, resplendent in gold-colored robes as he read his speech in Italian.
This year, Easter fell on the same day in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic church calendars, and in Jerusalem, Orthodox and Catholics worshiped at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus’ Good Friday crucifixion and burial and of his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Protestants held their own ceremonies outside the walled Old City at the Garden Tomb, which some identify as the site of Jesus’ burial.
In Cagliari, Sardinia, an Easter lunch of Sardinian cheese, pasta, and lamb was served by Caritas, the Catholic charity, to some 20 Tunisians, the Italian news agency ANSA said. The diners were some of the more than 26,000 Tunisians who secretly have entered Italy since unrest began in their homeland in January. Most are waiting for temporary travel documents from Italy they hope will let them reach France. France has warned the Tunisians they will be sent back unless they have jobs or savings to support themselves.
The dispute between Rome and Paris over the Tunisians’ fate is expected to dominate much of an Italian-French summit in the Italian capital tomorrow.
In Rome, the drama of society’s unwanted played out in one of the city’s major basilicas, where about 150 Gypsies have taken refuge from city officials who are dismantling illegal Roma trailer settlements. The Gypsies say the action will split their families by sending women and children to a shelter in a Rome suburb but not men.
A top aide to the Pope later went to St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica to meet with the Gypsies and express Benedict’s “closeness” to them, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
Caritas later found a solution by arranging the Gypsies’ transfer, men and women alike, to a home run by a volunteer group in hopes it could be a “prelude to a lasting, stable arrangement,” Father Lombardi said.
Meanwhile in Iraq, a roadside bomb exploded near a Catholic church’s rear entrance in Baghdad after Easter services, wounding at least two police officers and two civilians.
The bomb blew up outside Sacred Heart church in Baghdad’s central Karrada district, shattering windows in nearby buildings and damaging a police truck at the gate. The church had been cleared of parishioners.
Iraqi police and soldiers were out in force on the streets Sunday.
Iraq’s Christian community has been on high alert since a militant assault on a Syrian Catholic cathedral in central Baghdad last October in which 52 people died.
Iraqi forces have increased security to Christian churches since the assault on Our Lady of Salvation cathedral, the bloodiest against Iraq’s Christian minority since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama and his family attended Easter service at a Washington church founded in 1863 by freed slaves. The first family entered Shiloh Baptist Church to applause as members of a choir dressed in black, white, and gold sang “Total Praise.”
Mr. Obama shook a few hands and hugged some members of the congregation as he and his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, walked to a second-row pew.
The pastor, the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, asked that no cameras be used at yesterday’s service, saying, “this is a place of worship.”
He said the church prays for the first family every Sunday. He invited the President to address the congregation, but Mr. Obama declined.