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Pope Francis, huge crowd joyously celebrate Easter

VATICAN CITY — Marking Christianity's most hopeful day, Pope Francis made an Easter Sunday plea for peace and dialogue in Ukraine and Syria, for an end to terrorist attacks against Christians in Nigeria, and for more attention to the hungry and neediest close to home.

Well over 150,000 tourists — Romans and pilgrims, young and old — turned out for the Mass that Francis celebrated at an altar set up under a canopy on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

So great were their numbers that they overflowed from sprawling St. Peter's Square, which was bedecked with row after row of potted daffodils, sprays of blue hyacinths and bunches of white roses. Waving flags from the pope's native Argentina as well as from Brazil, Mexico, Britain, Poland and many other countries, they also filled the broad boulevard leading from the square to the Tiber River.

Easter is the culmination of Holy Week and marks Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his Crucifixion.

Francis noted that this year the Catholic church's celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine.

Francis prayed that God would "enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence."

Francis also prayed that all sides in Syria will be moved to "boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue." Syria has been wracked by a three-year civil war that has cost 150,000 lives and forced millions to flee the country.

Francis also spoke of those suffering in Africa from an epidemic of deadly Ebola and urged a halt to "brutal terrorist attacks" in parts of Nigeria.

Francis' Easter message also urged people to pay attention to the needy close to home. He said the "good news" of Easter's joy means "leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life's troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast."

He denounced the '"scourge of hunger," which he said was '"aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible."

Francis has set an austere tone in his papacy, forsaking an ornate apostolic palace apartment for a simple guesthouse on the Vatican grounds and rejecting limousines for regular cars.

Pope Francis greets the faithful during Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. It marked his second Easter as the pontiff.

Getty Images

Pope Francis greets the faithful during Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. It marked his second Easter as the pontiff.

Obama, family get hearty welcome

President Barack Obama may have expected a quiet Easter, but his presence rallied a congregation eager to greet him and his family. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters sat in the second row at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, nearly 2 miles north of the White House. They received a standing ovation during the welcome, with dozens of worshipers gathering around to shake the Obamas' hands and take pictures.

Pope Francis, huge crowd joyously celebrate Easter 04/20/14 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2014 12:30am]
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