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In Easter message, Pope asks for charity toward refugees from Arab unrest

This photo released by the Vatican shows Pope Benedict XVI addressing the throngs in St. Peter’s square in Rome yesterday. This photo released by the Vatican shows Pope Benedict XVI addressing the throngs in St. Peter’s square in Rome yesterday. (AFP/ Getty Images)
Associated Press / April 25, 2011

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI offered an Easter prayer for diplomacy to prevail over warfare in Libya and for citizens of the Middle East to build a new society based on respect.

He also called on Europeans to welcome refugees from North Africa.

“In heaven, all is peace and gladness. But, alas, all is not so on earth,’’ the pope lamented yesterday as he delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi’’ message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to a crowd of more than 100,000 that overflowed from St. Peter’s Square.

“In the current conflict in Libya, may diplomacy and dialogue replace arms, and may those who suffer as a result of the conflict be given access to humanitarian aid,’’ he said.

Referring to North Africa and the Middle East, the pope prayed that all citizens, especially young people, would “work to promote the common good and to build a society where poverty is defeated and every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person.’’

Uprisings, repression, and civil warfare have triggered an exodus of people to Italy and other countries in the region. Europe has been split over whether to accept or deport tens of thousands of migrants, many of them from Libya and elsewhere in northern Africa.

The dispute between Rome and Paris over the fate of thousands of Tunisian refugees is expected to dominate much of an Italian-French summit in the Italian capital tomorrow.

Benedict rallied to the side of refugees, urging people of good will to “open their hearts to welcome them.’’

“Here, in this world of ours, the Easter alleluia still contrasts with the cries and laments that arise from so many painful situations: deprivation, hunger, disease, war, violence,’’ said the pontiff, resplendent in gold-colored robes as he sat on a chair and read his speech in Italian.

This year, Easter fell on the same day in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic church calendars. In Jerusalem, Orthodox and Catholic worshippers held services at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Protestants held ceremonies outside the walled Old City at the Garden Tomb, which some identify as the site of Jesus’s burial.

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