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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 April 2006, 22:31 GMT 23:31 UK
Benedict leads Holy Saturday mass
Pope Benedict XVI holds a candle during an Easter vigil Mass
Easter Sunday coincides with the Pope's 79th birthday
Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated his first Easter vigil Mass in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Thousands of pilgrims watched and prayed inside the darkened basilica as the Pope lit a single candle.

Its flame was then used to light thousands of candles held by the congregation, lighting up the church.

It will be 500 years this month that construction began on the basilica, where the first Pope, St Peter, is believed to be buried.

Pope birthday

In his homily, the Pope said the resurrection of Christ ushered in a new dimension of life.

Last year at Easter, his predecessor lay dying and it was the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who took his place at many ceremonies.

Way of Cross procession at the Coliseum in Rome

John Paul II died a week later, having only been able to make brief appearances during Easter week.

The vigil came hours before Benedict celebrates Easter Mass in St Peter's Square on Sunday, which coincides with his 79th birthday.

At noon the Pope will deliver his traditional Easter message to the city of Rome and to the world from the balcony of St Peters.

It will be broadcast live on television to more than 50 countries.

On Friday, the Pope led a torchlight Way of the Cross procession to mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

See the Easter midnight vigil in Rome

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