Celebrating Easter renewal with a huge crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II prayed Sunday for divine reconciliation in a modern world “that seems to be rushing headlong toward self-destruction and death.”
A cloudless sky, bright sun and a lively spring breeze greeted festively dressed pilgrims who overflowed the giant square and spilled into the broad avenue beyond. A Vatican spokesman estimated the crowd at more than 200,000. Television carried the pageantry to an estimated audience of 500 million in 58 countries, including the United States.
The Pope’s annual Easter “Urbi et Orbi” message--to the city and the world--depicted the eternal universality of God as a shelter for Christians from the ills of a troubled world.
John Paul also appealed for religious freedom, “often today trampled upon in many different ways,” and voiced his anguish at unchecked violence in “ever-beloved and tormented” Lebanon.
Strong-voiced as ever, the white-robed leader of the world’s 850 million Catholics delivered his address and his traditional Easter blessing from the central balcony of a cathedral decked in white and maroon for ceremonies marking the Resurrection of Christ, the most important Sunday in the Christian year.
This year, the 68-year-old pontiff offered Easter greetings to his flock in 55 languages, starting in Italian, ending in Latin and passing en route through such tongues as Lithuanian, Ethiopian, Swahili and Thai. “A blessed Easter in the joy of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and savior of the world,” the Pope said in English.
Greeted by a fanfare of trumpets and cheers from pilgrims waving flags and banners from more than a dozen nations, John Paul based his Italian-language message on a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, for he has risen.”
Noting that the Resurrection of Christ occurred while Jews in Jerusalem were celebrating Passover, the freedom of Israel from bondage, the Pope said, “This is Easter--the Passover of the Lord.”
The Resurrection, John Paul said, was God’s covenant with humanity and “the world which is the theater of the history of the human race.”
“Over these tragedies and triumphs of today’s world, of the man of today, God continues to pass through the Resurrection of his son, the son of man. . . .
“He passes and frees from the fear that oppresses so many of our brothers and sisters in the face of uncertainty in the future, everywhere in the world. . . . He passes where there do not exist conditions worthy of a truly human life through lack of housing, promiscuity, vagrancy, where selfishness withers the fruitfulness of marriage and the family breaks up. . . .
"(God passes) where the innocence of children is exploited and corrupted, where violence is done to their defenseless goodness, where the shameful commerce of vice is carried on and women are still its main victim,” the Pope said.
Referring to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Pope said: “In his blood all is reconciled: Man with God, with himself, with nature.
“This is the truth which Easter proclaims in today’s world which in so many ways seems to be rushing headlong toward self-destruction and death,” John Paul continued.
Easter, the Pope said, is unchangeable and eternal. “Christ’s Resurrection has not been ‘added’ to history. It is the history--the whole history--of man, which is inscribed in this unique day which the Lord has made so that he can make all things new.”
For John Paul, the Easter message, his 11th, climaxed solemn Holy Week observances in which he washed the feet of seminarians, heard confessions of everyday Catholics, said the stations of the cross at a procession around the Colosseum in Rome and observed an Easter Eve vigil at the Vatican.
For the first part of this week, John Paul will rest at the papal retreat of Castel Gandolfo near Rome and begin preparations for the first of four foreign trips scheduled for this year. He leaves for Africa on April 22.
In other Easter observances around the world, as reported by the Associated Press:
In Jerusalem, the Roman Catholic patriarch of that divided city blamed politicians for violence in the Holy Land.
The patriarch, Michel Sabah, made his comments before pilgrims at Easter Mass in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christians believe Jesus was resurrected.
Sabah, the first Palestinian to serve as Roman Catholic patriarch, or bishop, of the city, alluded to the searing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
As pilgrims from across the world crowded the chapel that many believe contains Christ’s tomb, the patriarch said: “We find the reality of the Holy Land a reality of death and suffering.
“We find those who tell us each day, ‘We are hungry, we are humiliated, we are prisoners, we have no schooling,’ ” he said. “We find those who have died and those who have yet to die while the politicians take their time finding answers.”
Sabah, named bishop in January, 1987, never directly mentioned the Palestinian uprising that for 15 months has torn the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But his mention of the “two peoples in this Holy Land” and his repeated references to death clearly evoked the revolt in which about 400 Palestinians and 15 Israelis have died.
Elsewhere Sunday, shells and rockets pounded Beirut as Lebanese Christians commemorated Easter, and in Afghanistan, about 30 members of the dwindling Western community in the capital of Kabul gathered for services.
In Czechoslovakia, Christians called for the Pope to visit that Communist nation. In the Soviet Union, Masses were held for the first time in years.
In Czechoslovakia, about 400 people gathered beneath the balcony of 89-year-old Roman Catholic Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek’s Baroque residence shouting, “Long live our father!” and “We want the holy father!” in a call for John Paul to visit Prague.
The demonstration of religious feeling came two weeks ahead of new negotiations between the Communist authorities and the Vatican to appoint new bishops. Czechoslovakia is the only Soviet Bloc country where Communist authorities have for decades blocked the appointment of religious leaders.
In the Soviet Baltic republics of Lithuania and Latvia, many Christians celebrated the Easter Mass for the first time in years. Last year, Moscow handed back confiscated cathedrals to many communities after decades in government hands.
In Britain, Robert A. K. Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “We live in a world in which the worst looks as if it is going to happen and the worst often does happen, and yet out of the anguish and waste, love and trust come in new forms.
“A sober look at the world seems to raise more fear than hope,” Runcie, who is spiritual leader of the Church of England, told the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral.