Pope pleads for peaceful end to nuclear stand-off

POPE BENEDICT XVI yesterday urged the use of diplomacy to defuse nuclear crises, in a clear reference to worries over Iran, and prayed that Palestinians would have their own state alongside that of Israel.

On Christianity’s most joyous day, which coincided with Benedict’s 79th birthday, the pontiff prayed that violence would cease in Iraq as he painted a bleak picture in much of the world.

From the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, Benedict reflected on the globe’s hotspots shortly after he celebrated Easter Mass in St Peter’s Square, which was packed with some 100,000 pilgrims and tourists on a breezy, hazy day.

Pilgrims marking Easter also filled the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. The alleys were more crowded than in recent years, reflecting a drop in Palestinian-Israeli violence which had discouraged tourism.

The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who is the leading Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, celebrated Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the spot where many Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross.

Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter next week on April 23.

“Today, even in this modern age marked by anxiety and uncertainty, we relive the event of the resurrection, which changed the face of our life and changed the history of humanity,” Benedict said in the traditional papal Urbi et Orbi message - Latin for to the city and to the world. Elsewhere in his message, Benedict made what was widely seen as a clear reference to recent developments in Iran which raised concerns across the world that Tehran might be working toward a nuclear arsenal.

“Concerning the international crises linked to nuclear power, may an honourable solution be found for all parties, through serious and honest negotiations,” Benedict said.

Iran insists it only wants the peaceful use of nuclear power, but Western nations suspect Tehran wants to develop weapons and are demanding a halt to enrichment activities.

Concern over North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have also contributed to tensions in Asia.

Benedict was interrupted by applause when he said of Iraq: “May peace finally prevail over the tragic violence that continues mercilessly to claim victims.

“I also pray sincerely that those caught up in the conflict in the Holy Land may find peace, and I invite all to patient and persevering dialogue, so as to remove both ancient and new obstacles.”

There has been heavy pressure from abroad on the Hamas-led Palestinian government, which was elected in January, to renounce violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist.

The Pope also lamented that the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region was “no longer sustainable”.

He denounced the “deplorable scourge of kidnappings” in Latin America, where, he said, millions of people should have better living conditions and democratic institutions need to be “consolidated in a spirit of harmony”.

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