In Easter message, Pope calls for Israeli-Palestinian peace
Pope Benedict XVI pledges to bring message of reconciliation during visit to Israel and West Bank this May.
Pope Benedict called in his Easter message on Sunday for a renewed push for Israeli-Palestinian peace just weeks before he travels to the Holy Land for the first time as pontiff.
The pope celebrated an Easter Mass for tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter's Square as Christians around the world commemorated Jesus Christ's resurrection.
During his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address, the pope said he would carry a message of reconciliation on his May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land.
"Reconciliation - difficult, but indispensable - is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence," the pope said.
"It can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
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 Israel 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.
It follows the worst crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations in half a century after Benedict lifted the excommunication of British Bishop Richard Williamson, who said in January no more than 300,000 Jews perished 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 concentration camps.
Christians celebrate Easter in JerusalemChristians prayed at an ancient church and sang in a garden outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as they marked Easter Sunday in the city where they believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
The city buzzed with religious activity. Orthodox Christians, who observe a different calendar, marked Palm Sunday, and thousands of Jewish worshippers celebrating the Passover festival thronged a plaza opposite the Western Wall for a traditional blessing.
Roman Catholics held Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to mark the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and then resurrected on Easter Sunday. Brown-robed friars marched into the church to the sound of bagpipes, followed by clergymen in purple capes and others bearing crosses.
Pilgrims stood by, some filming with small video cameras. The scene outside the church was broadcast to believers worldwide over the Internet by the Florida-based U.S. company, IPrayTV.com.
Another group of pilgrims, however, chose to mark Easter Sunday outside the walls of the Old City at the Garden Tomb, which some Protestants sanctify as an alternative site for the last events of Jesus' life.
Protestant groups from the U.S., the Philippines and elsewhere gathered at the garden, swaying and singing along with a Christian rock band and listening to a sermon from Peter Wells, who heads the Garden Tomb Association.
"Risen lord Jesus, the lamb upon the throne, we join with all of heaven in declaring your glory," Wells said. "We welcome you to our resurrection garden, and invite you to have your way among us. As we celebrate today, and as we serve you tomorrow, we rejoice that you conquered sin, death and the grave, and that now you reign victorious, forever glorious."
Also Sunday morning, Orthodox priests in black robes and beards and carrying palm fronds filed into the Holy Sepulcher for their Palm Sunday ceremony. The Holy Sepulcher is shared by Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian Christians, along with several smaller sects.
Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted by cheering crowds with palm fronds.
Not far away, in a plaza opposite the 2,000-year-old stones of the Western Wall, Jews gathered for the traditional priestly blessing, a remnant of ritual from the biblical Jewish Temple. The Western Wall, a retaining wall from the Second Temple, is the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Covered in white prayer shawls, descendants of the Temple's priestly class blessed the assembled worshippers: "May God lift his countenance upon you and may he give you peace."