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Christian pilgrims mark Easter in Jerusalem
Jerusalem, APR 4 (PTI/Agencies)
Published on 5 Apr. 2010 12:22 AM IST
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Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem’s cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Easter Sunday at the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.
Incense filled the air as Western and Orthodox pilgrims packed into the labyrinthine maze of chapels and crypts lit by thousands of candles as services were held at the grotto where Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead.
Women in shawls knelt to kiss the stone where Jesus’s body is believed to have been prepared for burial as bearded monks in long black robes watched over visitors making their way through Christianity’s holiest site.
The centuries-old church is shared uneasily by six denominations of Jesus Christ’s followers -- Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.
In previous years Israeli police have had to rush into the church to break up fist fights between rival monks over alleged attempts to alter a delicate status quo hammered out over centuries, but this year calm prevailed.
Israeli police had stepped up security across the walled Old City during holy week, when thousands of pilgrims trace Jesus’s final steps through the winding cobblestone streets of the city.
Cardinal defends ‘unfailing’ Pope
A leading cardinal, making an unusual address in defence of Pope Benedict at the start of Easter Sunday Mass, said the Church would not be intimidated by “petty gossip” about sexual abuse of children by priests.
The surprise speech by Cardinal Angelo Sodano was believed to be the first time in recent memory that the ritual of a papal Easter Sunday Mass was changed to allow someone to address the pope at the start.
The change of protocol indicated just how much the Vatican is feeling the pressure from a growing scandal concerning sexual abuse of children by priests and reports of a possible cover-up that have inched ever closer to the pope himself.
“With this spirit today we rally close around you, successor to (St) Peter, bishop of Rome, the unfailing rock of the Holy church of Christ, to sing with you the Alleluia of Christian faith and hope,” Sodano told the pope. “Holy Father, the people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes assail the community of believers,” Sodano said.
Sodano’s speech also indicated that the Vatican’s strategy was that the pope would not address the issue directly for the time being, at least not in the context of religious services.
The pope was due to deliver his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address at the end of the ceremony.
Anglican leader regrets Irish Catholics commentsSodano, a former secretary of state who was a top aide to the late Pope John Paul, praised Benedict as the “solid rock” that holds up the Church.
“The Church is with you,” Sodano told the pope to the cheers of thousands of people in a rainy St Peter’s Square. His speech of solidarity, given to reporters minutes before he read it, listed those who support the pope, particularly “the 400,000 priests who generously serve” in schools, hospitals and missions around the world. The Vatican has accused the media of fanning the scandal by reporting on cases of priests who raped children and bishops who either didn’t report it to police or were obstructed from pursuing church trials by the Vatican.
Papal preacher apologises
Pope Benedict’s personal preacher apologised to Jews on Sunday after he compared attacks on the Church and the pope over a sexual abuse scandal to “collective violence” against Jews throughout history.
“If -- and it was not my intention to do so -- I hurt the sensitivities of Jews and victims of paedophilia, I am truly sorry and I ask for forgiveness,” Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.
He also said the pope was not aware of his remarks and that the pontiff heard them for the first time along with everyone else in St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday. “Not only did the pope not inspire me but, like everyone else, heard my words for the first time like everyone else during the liturgy in the basilica,” he said.
Cantalamessa, speaking with the pope sitting nearby, said Jews throughout history had been the victims of “collective violence” and drew comparisons between Jewish suffering and attacks on the Church.
“The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,” Cantalamessa quoted from a letter he said he had received from a Jewish friend.
A Vatican spokesman later said the comparison “is absolutely not the line of the Vatican and of the Catholic Church”. Jewish groups around the world have reacted with shock to the comments, using words like repugnant, obscene, and offensive to describe the sermon.
Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni said the remarks were particularly insensitive because they were made on the day that for centuries Christians prayed for the conversion of the Jews, who were once held collectively responsible for Jesus’ death.

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