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JERUSALEM | Chris­tians cel­e­brated Easter on Sun­day across the Mid­dle East, where many are strug­gling to main­tain their em­bat­tled com­mu­ni­ties in the face of war, re­li­gious vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Thou­sands of wor­ship­pers flocked to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepul­chre, built on the site where Chris­tians be­lieve Je­sus was cru­ci­fied and res­ur­rected.

This year the hol­i­day was cel­e­brated on the same day by both Ro­man Catholic and East­ern Or­tho­dox wor­ship­pers. The de­nom­i­na­tions, which jeal­ously guard dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the church, held sep­a­rate ser­vices one af­ter an­other.

The church is lo­cated in Jerusalem’s Old City. Wor­ship­pers lined up to ad­mire the edicule, the cham­ber that tra­di­tion says marks Je­sus’ tomb. A Greek restora­tion team re­cently com­pleted a his­toric ren­o­va­tion of the spot. A ser­vice was also held in the West Bank city of Beth­le­hem, in the Church of Na­tiv­ity, the place where Chris­tian tra­di­tion says Je­sus was born.

At the Vatican, Pope Fran­cis lamented the hor­rors gen­er­ated by war and ha­tred, de­liv­er­ing an Easter Sun­day mes­sage that also de­cried the “lat­est vile” at­tack on civil­ians in Syria.

Both in his im­promptu homily dur­ing Mass in St. Peter’s Square and later in his for­mal “Urbi et Orbi” Easter mes­sage de­liv­ered from the bal­cony of St. Peter’s Basil­ica, Fran­cis en­cour­aged peo­ple to hold fast in their “fear­ful hearts” to faith, ac­knowl­edg­ing that many peo­ple won­der where God is amid so much evil and suf­fer­ing.

He cited the ex­plo­sion Satur­day that ripped through a bus de­pot in the Aleppo area where evac­uees were await­ing trans­fer, killing at least 100 peo­ple.

“Yes­ter­day saw the lat­est vile at­tack on flee­ing refugees,” the pope said, also pray­ing for peace in the Holy Land, Iraq and Ye­men.

Some 60,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing throngs of pil­grims and tourists, en­dured tight anti-ter­ror­ism se­cu­rity checks — and, later, a brief down­pour — to hear Fran­cis and re­ceive his bless­ing.

Egypt’s Cop­tic Chris­tians, mean­while, marked a somber Easter a week af­ter twin bomb­ings by the Is­lamic State killed dozens of wor­ship­pers at churches in two sep­a­rate cities.

Cop­tic Chris­tian Pope Tawadros II presided over Easter Mass late Satur­day at St. Mark’s Cathe­dral in Cairo, with sev­eral gov­ern­ment min­is­ters in at­ten­dance.

Tawadros had ear­lier an­nounced dur­ing his Good Fri­day ser­mon that, as mourn­ing for the at­tack vic­tims was on­go­ing, the cel­e­bra­tory as­pects of Easter would be can­celed this year, in­clud­ing the Easter morn­ing re­cep­tion.

Last Sun­day a sui­cide bomber was able to make his way to the front rows of a church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta be­fore blow­ing him­self up. In the Mediter­ranean city of Alexan­dria, an­other at­tacker det­o­nated his sui­cide vest at the church gate’s metal de­tec­tor af­ter be­ing stopped by guards.

The Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the bomb­ings. Many of Iraq’s Chris­tians ob­served the hol­i­day in camps for the dis­placed af­ter flee­ing the Is­lamic State and the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion to drive the mil­i­tants from Mo­sul, the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest city.

Pak­istan’s tiny Chris­tian mi­nor­ity cel­e­brated Easter amid high se­cu­rity af­ter last year’s cel­e­bra­tions were marred by a Tal­iban sui­cide bomb­ing that killed more than 70 peo­ple.


Latin Pa­tri­arch of Jerusalem Pier­bat­tista Piz­z­a­balla (center) walks with Chris­tian cler­gy­men hold­ing can­dles dur­ing the Easter Sun­day pro­ces­sion at the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre, be­lieved by many Chris­tians to be the tra­di­tional site of the cru­ci­fix­ion and burial of Je­sus Christ, in Jerusalem.


Pope Fran­cis de­liv­ers his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world) mes­sage from the main bal­cony of St. Peter’s Basil­ica at the Vatican, Sun­day in honor of Easter. Fran­cis prayed pub­licly for peace in the Mid­dle East, de­cry­ing at­tacks on refugees flee­ing Syria.

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