Sunday, April 20, 2003

Patriarch of Moscow sends Easter message to Pope

‘PEACE IN IRAQ!’

Pope Says Iraqis Have to Take Charge of Own Future
By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul, in his Easter message on Sunday, made a ringing call for peace around the world and said Iraqis had to take charge of the rebuilding of their country with the help of the international community.

The pope, marking the 25th Easter season of his pontificate, also called for an end to the "chain of hatred" threatening the human family at the start of a new millennium "tragically marred by acts of violence and conflict."

The Vatican's English translation of his speech used the phrase "chain of hatred and terrorism" but all other translations did not and the pope did not use the word terrorism when he spoke in Italian.

He said he was profoundly grieved by unending violence in the Holy Land and urged the world to remember forgotten wars.

In the message beamed live to hundreds of millions of people in 54 countries, he wished the world a happy and peaceful Easter in 62 languages, including Arabic, Hebrew and some languages spoken in countries that are in conflict in Africa and Asia.

The 82-year-old pope, speaking from a St Peter's Square bedecked with tens of thousands of flowers, appeared in overall good condition although somewhat tired. His voice was a bit hoarse after a hectic seven days of Holy Week activities.

"Peace in Iraq!," he said in his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message after celebrating an Easter Sunday mass for worshippers who stood under umbrellas in a steady rain.

The crowd roared with approval and applauded when he called for peace, prompting him to raise his voice energetically to repeat several phrases with emphasis.

U.N. ROLE IN IRAQ

"With the support of the international community, may the Iraqi people become the protagonists of the collective rebuilding of their country," he said.

The pope, who wore white and gold colored vestments at Sunday's ceremony, led a vigorous anti-war campaign ahead of the U.S.-led attack to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Since Saddam's rule was toppled, the Vatican has urged a quick end to the conflict and has offered to help coordinate humanitarian assistance through its embassy and dioceses.

The pope again spoke of his fears that both fresh and protracted conflicts in the Middle East could spark what he called "a tragic clash between cultures and religions."

Forgiveness, understanding, patience and peace-building were the watchwords if people really wanted to inaugurate what he called a "new era of justice and peace."

He called for "peace in other parts of the world, where forgotten wars and protracted hostilities are causing deaths and injuries amid silence and neglect on the part of considerable sectors of public opinion."

He mentioned conflicts in Africa, Asia, the Caucasus and Latin America.

Despite all the conflicts and tragedies, the message of the pope, who lived through the horrors of World War II and suffered oppression both at the hands of Nazis and Communists in his native Poland, was one of optimism.

"However dark the horizon of humanity may seem, today we celebrate the radiant triumph of Easter joy. If a contrary wind slows the march of peoples, if the sea of history is tossed by storms, let no one yield to dismay and lack of trust!" he said.

The past Holy Week, which saw the pope preside at about 10 Vatican events, was another test for his stamina. But he seems to have held up very well and at times appeared more healthy and energetic than for several years.

During the week, the Vatican introduced three innovations, to help him conserve his strength and to take strain off his legs, which are afflicted by arthritis.

He has used a mobile throne to move up and down the main aisle of St Peter's Basilica and a small lift to reach the main altar. He also began saying mass seated in a special high chair that lifts him to the level of the altar.


Easter at Chaldean Catholic church in Iraq

Iraqi Christians Pray for Better Times at Easter
By Edmund Blair

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Christians celebrated Easter under the shadow of uncertainty and sorrow, praying for an end to the chaos that has engulfed their lives since the United States led an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Sunday is the day Christians believe Jesus was resurrected. But in Baghdad's churches -- which, like the city's mosques, have been spared the looting that has wrecked much of the capital -- the mood was somber and uncertain.

Christians dressed in the best clothes they could find mourned dead relatives and prayed for a rebirth of Iraq.

"We are praying that God protects the people," said Suhail Elias Kusto, 50, at the Lady of Our Salvation Catholic church. She said her 24-year-old nephew had been killed on the first day of the bombing of Baghdad last month.

"We just want an end to killing. We have had enough," she said, weeping. "Hasn't there been enough fighting?"

U.S. troops also attended Easter services at their camps and bases. Major Kelly Ward of the 2nd Cavalry said his unit, based on the outskirts of the impoverished Saddam City suburb, held three services -- Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational. The same pattern was repeated at U.S. bases across the city.

Iraq's Christians enjoyed relative religious freedom under Saddam's secular rule. Many of them worry that the collapse of Saddam's government and the advent of democracy in a Muslim majority nation could affect their freedom to worship.

Some also fear a backlash from those who considered the Christian community too closely linked to Saddam. Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz was the top-ranking Christian under his rule.

There are an estimated 700,000 Christians in the country of 26 million people of various sects -- many, but not all, of which celebrate Easter on the same day as Rome.

A few hundred people attended the Easter Sunday service in the Lady of our Salvation church. Ceiling fans kept them cool in the morning heat, as white-robed priests led the service.

"We are just praying that the situation stabilizes. That is the most important thing for this country," said 27-year-old mechanic Firas Showkal. "We don't have electricity. We only have a little water. There are still no schools."

Outside the Church of St Joseph, where Catholic priests in black robes and pink skullcaps led the celebration of Easter, two Iraqi Dominican nuns said what they wanted most of all was a return to some semblance of a normal life.

"My family are in America. My thoughts are with them and I want to hear their news. We don't have telephones," said Sister Marie-Yvette, 51. "We don't have security."

Sister Marta, a 40-year-old Iraqi who studied in Rome, said her prayers had been for a better Iraq: "We have been praying that people will be able to live in peace, and the situation in Iraq will improve, and life will return to normal."

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