World’s Christians mark Easter with messages of hope |

World’s Christians mark Easter with messages of hope


LONDON (AP) – In grand cathedrals, tiny churches and quiet cemeteries, the world’s Christians celebrated Easter on Sunday, each community drawing its own message of hope from the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

In Oak Harbor, Wash., site of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, churchgoers celebrated the homecoming of crew members from a spy plane held in China with ringing bells and thankful prayers.

”Praise God They’re Back” proclaimed a sign outside the Southern Baptist Church. At St. Augustine Catholic Church, well-wishers shook hands with crew member Lt. j.g. Richard Payne and the Rev. John O’Leary urged an Easter crowd to give thanks for their return.

”God has cared for them, watched over them,” O’Leary said.

Elsewhere in the world, other congregations offered their own prayers.

In one of the world’s war-torn capitals, Grozny in Chechnya, 170 people gathered in the ruins of a church under heavy guard against rebel attack. The Russian Orthodox congregation, mostly elderly, stood in the open air among jagged brick walls, while priests chanted, genuflected and blessed the crowd with holy water.

”This is the first bright day in two years,” said Natalia Nefedova. ”I wish people could live without fighting, without war. I’m really afraid every night during the exchange of fire.” After the service, priests went to Russian military barracks in the city and blessed young conscripts who stood holding candles.

Pope John Paul II, leading tens of thousands of worshippers in the traditional Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican, insisted that peace is possible in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and other places tormented by violent conflicts.

”Rediscover with joy and wonder that the world is no longer a slave to the inevitable. This world of ours can change: Peace is possible even where for too long there has been fighting and death,” the ailing John Paul told the crowd at St. Peter’s Square on a bright, unusually chilly Roman spring day.

At Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Christ was crucified, the Latin – or Roman Catholic – Patriarch Michel Sabbah, a Palestinian, called in his sermon for peace, but criticized Israeli actions against the Palestinians during the current fighting.

The resurrection of Jesus, he said, is a message of hope for Palestinians in the seventh month of their intefadeh, or uprising.

”The force which can impose itself through sieges, bombardments or killings,” he said, ”cannot kill the soul of a people.”

The Church of England’s senior clergyman offered words of comfort to citizens wearied by months of rain and floods and an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease.

”Some have talked of our recent trials and tribulations as the ‘judgment of God’,” said Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. ”I resist that notion.

”For me, they challenge us to understand more deeply not God’s judgment, but his love and what that offers us. And there is no better time to ponder that than at Easter.”

President Bush, his family and his parents celebrated Easter at a sunrise church service in Texas, joining in a prayer of thanks for the safe return of 24 U.S. service members held in China.

A calendar quirk this year resulted in Easter falling on the same date for Orthodox and Western – Protestant and Catholic – churches.

Both churches agree that the date should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. But the dates vary because Protestant and Catholic Churches follow the 16th century Gregorian Calendar, while the Orthodox churches use the older Julian Calendar.

In Moscow, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II presided over the services at the cathedral of Christ the Savior, attended by President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila. Alexy wished Putin God’s help ”in the difficult task of serving Russia and its people, who place their hopes in you and love you,” the Interfax news agency reported.

In Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, led thousands of faithful in a candlelit procession at the gold-encrusted Cathedral of St. George on the shores of Istanbul’s Golden Horn.

Following the 2-year-old warming in relations between traditional rivals Greece and Turkey, thousands of Greek tourists traveled to Istanbul to celebrate Easter at the patriarchate.

In Cairo, 5,000 people attended early morning services in the grand Abbassiya Cathedral celebrated by Coptic Pope Shenouda III, head of the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Egypt has an estimated 6 million Copts, about 10 percent of the 60 million people in this overwhelming Muslim country.

”I go to a parish church and we don’t have a pope, no grand ceremonies, nor wonderful music or thousands of people cheering and clapping,” said vacationer Nan McFerren, a 55-year-old retired librarian from Lake Helen, Fla., who attended the service.

Christians in Sudan celebrated Easter peacefully. Last week, though, police used tear gas and batons to disperse crowds that gathered to attend an Easter celebration.

The clashes broke out Tuesday when the crowds refused to accept a government decision to move the ceremony from Khartoum’s Green Square to a smaller, closed-door venue because of security concerns after Islamic groups threatened the Christian gathering.

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