Pope's Easter messages focus on peace

 Peace in Iraq and the world was a recurring theme of Pope John Paul II's homilies throughout the Easter Triduum. On Good Friday, the Pope prayed for victims of war and terrorism. He spoke of the "blood poured out from so many victims of hate, of war, of terrorism" in a sermon after the traditional torchlit Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession at the city's ancient Colosseum. Seated on a white throne on the Palatine Hill overlooking the ancient Romans' arena, John Paul II asked God to "look upon the blood so many victims... and kindly permit that the course of world events play out according to your will in justice and peace". In the past he would have carried the tall wooden cross for the entire Via Crucis, but this year he remained seated, only gripping the cross at the very end of the service. There was no direct mention of the war in Iraq, but among those carrying the cross were an Iraqi mother and daughter who fled Baghdad shortly before it began. Other cross-bearers included the widow and young son of Dr Carlo Urbani, the Italian World Health Organization doctor who first alerted the world to the existence of the Sars epidemic and died from it on 29 March. Franciscan friars from the Holy Land and lay Catholics from the war zones of Colombia, Liberia and Sierra Leone also took part. On Saturday night the Pope led the three-hour vigil Mass in St Peter's. The service began at night with the huge basilica plunged into darkness. The Pope, as he has done every Easter since his election 25 years ago, then lit a single candle. The flame he kindled then lit more than 10,000 candles held by pilgrims, and the basilica floodlights were switched on to symbolically mark Christ's resurrection. In his homily, the Pope said the resurrection of Jesus Christ was destined to change the course of history and continued to resound from generation to generation. During the ceremony, the Pope baptised seven new converts from Africa and America. During his Easter "Urbi et Orbi" address on Sunday, Pope John Paul II called for peace worldwide and for understanding between the different religions. "May God grant that we be free from the peril of a tragic clash between cultures and religions," he said, adding that followers of all religions should be builders of understanding and forgiveness. Lamenting the "forgotten wars" around the world, he placed particular emphasis on the continuing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, the Caucasus and Latin America. To massive cheers from the 150,000 strong crowd gathered in St Peter's Square, he called again for peace in Iraq and said that it was hoped, the people of Iraq would be able to rebuild their country with the support of the international community. At the end of the speech the Pope greeted the international crowd in more than 60 languages.

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