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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Is Easter Around The World, May Jerusalem Have Final Peace

Some in agony, others in ecstasy, Christians around the world marked Good Friday with prayer, processions and pleas for peace.

Thousands of pilgrims, some carrying large wooden crosses and others holding candles, wound their way through the narrow lanes of Jerusalem's Old City, retracing the route the Bible says Jesus took on the way to his crucifixion.

And in Rome, Pope Benedict carried the cross at the beginning of the traditional Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum.

In Mexico City, meanwhile, more than 500,000 people turned out for the annual Passion play in the capital's working class Iztapalapa neighbourhood. Thousands participated in the procession, many lugging heavy crosses through the streets.

Officials said it was the 164th year that the Passion play has been enacted in the neighbourhood, although there are references to earlier performances in Mexico City going back to the 16th century.

In the Mexican silver-mining town of Taxco, hooded men belonging to a Catholic brotherhood slapped their backs bloody with nail-studded whips and dragged their shackled bare feet across rough cobblestone streets. Others carried thorny blackberry branches tied across their outstretched arms.

On Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa - or Way of Sorrows - visitors from the United States, India, South Korea, the Philippines, Russia and many other countries followed the traditional route of Christ's final walk, stopping at 14 stations, each marking an event that befell Jesus on the way to his death.

The final five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was stripped, crucified, and finally laid to rest before being resurrected on Easter Sunday.

In a re-enactment of those last hours, a Korean pilgrim played the role of Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns, dragging a cross and covered with fake blood. He was escorted by other pilgrims dressed as Roman legionnaires.

"The Lord moves us to come here," said Bob Payton of Orange County, Calif., playing the part of a Roman soldier in his third Good Friday visit.

Israeli police said "thousands" took part.

In the Philippines, seven penitents in the northern village of San Pedro Cutud were nailed to crosses in an annual rite that is frowned upon by religious leaders but has become a major spectator attraction. Dozens of half-naked men hit their bloodied backs with bamboo sticks in an atonement rite.

In his traditional Good Friday message, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, appealed to politicians of all faiths to bring an end to the region's ongoing violence.

"What's happening now, in our Holy Land here, is believers in God killing each other in the name of God; Jews Muslims, Christians," he said. "We hope, we wish, for political leaders who will have the courage to go and find the right ways for peace."

The calendars of five major Christian faiths coincide with one another this year, something that happens only once every four years.

Clergymen of different Christian denominations, some dressed in colorful robes, filed early Friday into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The various groups, who have feuded in the past, put aside their rivalries and the ceremonies passed smoothly. At one point, Catholic and Greek Orthodox worshippers quietly held simultaneous prayers in different parts of the church.

In accordance with tradition, the church's doors were unlocked by a member of a Muslim family that has held the key for centuries.

Easter this year also falls during the weeklong Jewish festival of Passover, which brings thousands of Jews into the cramped Old City to worship at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.

"Faith shouldn't necessarily divide us, but in fact can bring us together," said Catholic pilgrim Michael Murphy, a San Francisco native who lives in Paris.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said hundreds of police were deployed in and around the Old City to maintain order and protect all visitors.

Among the Easter pilgrims on Friday, some could be heard singing hymns in English, Latin and Hindi.

Slavko Stojic, an electrical engineer from Serbia, walked with three large crosses on his shoulders, which he wanted to have blessed before taking them back home.

The pilgrimage, Stojic said, transformed him.

"I'm now a full man," he said.

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