UNDATED (AP) – From the splendor of the Vatican to some of the world’s most troubled regions, Christians worldwide sought hope Sunday in their religion’s holiest event the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
In Rome, Pope Francis made an Easter plea for peace and dialogue in Ukraine and Syria and for an end to terrorist attacks against Christians in Nigeria. He also called for more attention to the needy and the hungry.
More than 150,000 tourists turned out for the Mass that Francis celebrated under a canopy on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. So great were their numbers that they overflowed from sprawling St. Peter’s Square, which was bedecked with row after row of potted daffodils, sprays of blue hyacinths and bunches of white roses.
This year, Francis noted, the Catholic church’s celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine. He prayed that God would “enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence.”
Thousands of pilgrims observed Easter in the Holy Land, where Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led Mass at the Holy Sepulcher church in Jerusalem, the site that Christians believe was the scene of the crucifixion and Jesus’ rising from the dead.
In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, worshippers prayed and lit candles at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be Jesus’ birthplace.
Easter was also celebrated in Gaza, where fewer than 3,000 Christians live among about 1.7 million Muslims. Christian communities in the Holy Land, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East, have been declining in recent years because of regional turmoil.
In war-torn Syria, Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi called on both sides to end the practice of “intimidation, displacement, extremism and takfiri mentality,” a term for Islamic extremists. Such radicals have become increasingly influential among Syrian rebels, attacking Christians who they see as infidels partly as punishment for their support of President Bashar Assad.
High above the Earth, astronauts aboard the International Space Station got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies.
“Gentlemen, the Easter Dragon is knocking at the door,” NASA’s Mission Control told the crew, referring to the name of the cargo ship, as the capsule was bolted into place.
The craft, launched by the California-based SpaceX company, held more than 2 tons of food, spacewalking gear and experiments, including mating fruit flies, a little veggie hothouse and legs for the resident robot. NASA also packed family care packages for the six spacemen.
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