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Easter Celebrants Reflect on Conflict, Rights and Peace

From Times Wire Services

Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch appealed for an end to violence in the Holy Land as hundreds of pilgrims celebrated Easter Sunday at the site where Christians believe Jesus was resurrected.

“The land is tired from the absence of peace,” Roman Catholic leader Michel Sabbah, a Palestinian, said in his Easter message in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

“We say enough violence, enough blood and enough discrimination between the two peoples,” he said, referring to Arabs and Jews.

Some pilgrims said security worries had not deterred them from traveling to Jerusalem.

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“We came for the Holy Week. It’s very great and unique being here. I feel safe,” said Rene Cuendo, 48, from the Philippines, as his wife stood on a bench straining to see Sabbah and dozens of priests lead the congregation in hymn-singing.

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Meanwhile at the Vatican in Rome, worry about the fragility of the Middle East peace, ethnic conflicts in Africa and Europe and human rights abuses tempered Easter joy Sunday for a weary-looking Pope John Paul II.

Celebrating Mass on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica for about 150,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans, John Paul wound up a grueling stretch of Holy Week services that tested his stamina and frail health.

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At one point during the 90-minute Mass, John Paul, tired after a long Easter vigil that ended nine hours earlier, appeared to almost fall backward as he raised his arm to sprinkle holy water. An Italian bishop moved quickly toward him, but the 77-year-old pope regained his balance.

In his traditional “urbi et orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, the pope prayed for “fresh courage” for those “who have believed and still believe in dialogue as the way to settle national and international tensions.”

The pope kept up his custom of wishing the crowd a happy Easter in many languages. This year, his greetings in 57 modern languages, plus Latin, set off waves of applause, especially strong from his fellow Poles.

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In Northern Ireland, where a landmark peace accord was signed Friday, it was an Easter of hope for many residents after 30 years of bloodshed.

The Very Rev. Jack Shearer on Sunday urged worshipers at a Protestant church in Belfast, capital of the British-ruled province, to pray that the agreement can bring lasting peace.

“The best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn him into a friend,” Shearer counseled 300 parishioners at St. Anne’s Anglican Cathedral, where he is dean. “We pray for an end to bitterness, for the healing of wounds.”

Archbishop Robin Eames, of the Anglican Church of Ireland, said he hoped people would listen carefully to all the arguments before making up their minds. “There is no way we can allow Northern Ireland to go back into the darkness.”

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Everywhere in the city, caution was the watchword.

“Trying problems still face the nation,” the Father Sean Crummey told 200 people who turned out in freezing weather for early Mass at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.

“There are still a lot of extremists around,” said Stuart McMurray, honorary secretary of the First Presbyterian Church in central Belfast, which was damaged several times when nearby buildings were bombed.


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