April 15, 2006

Pope begins his first Easter

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict began the first
Easter of his pontificate on Saturday, urging Catholics to let
the risen Christ help them transform a world of violence and

The 78-year-old German Pope, who marks the first
anniversary of his election next week, presided at an Easter
Vigil mass in St Peter's Basilica to mark the most important
day in the Church's liturgical calendar.

At the start of the service, the Pope carved the first and
last letters of the Greek alphabet -- alpha and omega -- and
the numbers of the year 2006 on a large candle.

For a few minutes, the first part of the service took place
without lights to symbolize the darkness of Christ's tomb
before he rose from the dead. Then candles were lit and later
the great lights of St Peter's Basilica were turned on for the
start of the mass.

In his homily the Pope, wearing gold and white vestments,
said the resurrection of Christ could not be considered a thing
of the past because it was still sending a message of hope to

"We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and
we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak,"
he said before thousands of people in the basilica.

"If we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a
formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a program
opposed to corruption and the desire for power and possession,"
he said.

During the long service, due to last up to three hours, the
Pope was conferring the sacrament on baptism of seven people
from Japan, Albania, Peru, Colombia and Cameroon.

On Sunday, the Pope will say an Easter day mass in St
Peter's Square and deliver an "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and
the world) blessing and message.

This is the first Easter season for the 1.1 billion member
Church since the death of Pope John Paul, who was in his final
days a year ago was only able to make brief appearances in the
week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

John Paul died on April 2, a week after Easter.