Pope Benedict XVI delivers his urbi et orbi blessing to the city of Rome and to the world from a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday. CNS photo

VATICAN CITY – In an Easter blessing to the world, Pope Benedict XVI prayed that Christ’s resurrection may open paths of “freedom, justice and peace” for troubled populations of the Middle East and Africa.

The pope urged an end to violence in Libya and Ivory Coast, assistance to refugees flooding out of North Africa and consolation for the victims of the Japanese earthquake. He prayed for those persecuted for their Christian faith, and praised their courage.

He spoke from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica on April 24 in his urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and to the world) blessing, after celebrating Mass for nearly 100,000 people in St Peter’s Square. Broadcast to many countries and live-streamed on the Internet, it was the last major event on the 84-year-old pontiff’s heavy Holy Week schedule.

Pope Benedict said the resurrection must not be viewed as “the fruit of speculation or mystical experience”. It happened in a precise moment and marked history forever, giving human events new strength, new hope and new meaning, he said.

“The entire cosmos is rejoicing today” and every person open to God has reason to be glad, he said.

But the joy of Easter contrasts with “the cries and laments that arise from so many painful situations: deprivation, hunger, disease, war, violence”.

He prayed that “the splendour of Christ reach the peoples of the Middle East, so that the light of peace and of human dignity may overcome the darkness of division, hate and violence”. In Libya, he said, diplomacy and violence need to take the place of armed fighting.

The pope alluded to the civil unrest that has spread throughout northern Africa and the Middle East, encouraging all citizens there, especially young people, to work for a society where poverty is defeated and where “every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person”.

The pope said the many forms of suffering in “this wounded world” make the Easter message all the more meaningful.

In a lengthy Easter Vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica the night before, the pope baptised and confirmed six adults from Albania, China, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Switzerland.

In a sermon, he analysed why the Christian’s sense of environmental responsibility is directly connected to the core beliefs of the faith.

“We relate to God the creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation,” he said. “Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives.”

He said the Christian account of creation is not about the scientific process, but something deeper: the source of everything is not pure chance, but “creative reason, love and freedom”.

On Good Friday, the pope presided over a night-time Way of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum, where tradition holds that early Christians were put to death. Kneeling on a platform on a hillside facing the ancient amphitheatre, the pope opened the ceremony with a prayer that drew attention to the constant struggle between good and evil in human history.

He appeared to refer to the priestly sex abuse scandal when he spoke of the “hour of darkness” when “an emptiness of meaning and values nullifies the work of education, and the disorder of the heart disfigures the innocence of the small and the weak”. - CNS

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