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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 April, 2003, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Pope calls for Iraqi freedom
Pope John Paul II at Easter vigil
Despite his frailty, the Pope has led all Holy Week masses
Pope John Paul II has called for the Iraqi people to be given a leading role in rebuilding their country in the wake of war as he made his Easter address to the world's one billion Roman Catholics.

The Pope also lamented the "forgotten wars" around the world, placing particular emphasis on the continuing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, the Caucasus and in Latin America.

The centre point of the pontiff's traditional address "Urbi et Orbi" - Latin for "To the city and to the World" - was the need for peace worldwide and for understanding between the different religions.

Tens of thousands of people packed into the rain-soaked square in front of St Peter's Basilica in Rome to watch the 82-year-old Pope deliver his message after presiding over mass celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

With the support of the international community, may the Iraqi people become the protagonists of their collective rebuilding of their country
Pope John Paul II

On Saturday night the Pope led a three-hour vigil mass in St Peter's, capping off a taxing schedule of ceremonies to mark Holy Week.

"Peace in Iraq," Pope John Paul II declared, drawing massive cheers from the estimated 100,000 pilgrims in attendance.

"With the support of the international community, may the Iraqi people become the protagonists of their collective rebuilding of their country," he said.

Vocal critic

Prior to the war, the Pope was outspoken in his criticism of the conflict and tried to use his influence to avert it - playing host to key politicians such as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Baghdad Easter mass
Iraqi Christians have flocked to churches to celebrate Easter

The Pope made an anguished plea for an end to what he called the chain of hatred and terrorism threatening the human family.

The Pontiff said the Easter message of the resurrection should encourage all believers, no matter how dark the horizon of humanity may seem at the moment.

"May God grant that we be free from the peril of a tragic clash between cultures and religions," he said, adding that followers of all religions should be builders of understanding and forgiveness.

At the end of the speech the Pope gave his greetings in more than 60 different languages to the obvious delight of the international crowd.

The BBC's Rome correspondent David Willey says the Pope, who will celebrate his 83rd birthday next month, has difficulty in walking, and during the vigil on Saturday moved around the basilica on a mobile throne pushed by attendants.

But our correspondent says he has refused to allow his increasing immobility to prevent him officiating at all the main Easter ceremonies in Rome.

In pictures: Easter celebrations
20 Apr 03  |  Photo Gallery
Pope holds Easter mass
19 Apr 03  |  Europe
Profile: Pope John Paul II
22 Apr 02  |  Europe

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