Christians around the world Sunday are celebrating Easter — the day they believe Jesus arose from the dead. It is the holiest day of the Christian calendar.
Throngs of the faithful endured heavy security checks to secure a place Sunday in the Vatican’s flower-filled Saint Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ celebration of Easter Sunday Mass and his delivery of his annual “Urbi et Orbi” — “to the city and to the world” — Easter address.
Pope Francis denounced how migrants, the poor and the marginalized are treated. He said they see their “human dignity crucified” every day through injustice and corruption.
The pope asked in his prayers for peace in the Middle East “beginning with the Holy Land, as well as in Iraq and Yemen.”
He hoped that Jesus’ sacrifice will inspire world leaders to “sustain the efforts of all those actively engaged in bringing comfort and relief to the civil population in Syria, prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death.”
Easter is Christianity’s “moveable feast,” falling on a different date each year. Western Christian churches celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox.
This year, however, the date of the Roman Catholic and Protestant observance of Easter coincides with the Orthodox churches. The two Easters are usually weeks apart with the Western Christian church following the Gregorian calendar, while, the Eastern Orthodox uses the older Julian calendar.
In Jerusalem, a sunrise service at the Garden Tomb, where worshippers sang hymns of the resurrection, set the biblical tone. Throughout the day, masses of different denominations of both Western and Eastern Christians coexisted in the same holy space.
Wajeeh Nusseibeh, a Muslim man and member of one of the two families who guard and keep the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, said there were fewer people visiting the holy place this year than in the past.
Nusseibeh blamed that on tough economic times and security concerns among Middle Eastern Christians, who feel under threat in Iraq and Syria.
“We hope to have peace next year,” he said. “And everyone accepts the other.”
The Old City also had Jewish pilgrims celebrating the weeklong biblical holiday of Passover — the story from the biblical Exodus celebrating the ancient Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery.
Reports say many of the attendees were ultra-Orthodox Jews in dark suits and hats, but they were joined by others including members of the Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community.
Armed Israeli police and soldiers patrolled the streets near the site of Christ’s tomb, but the atmosphere was calm.
In Egypt, however, authorities beefed up security after a suicide bomb attack on a Coptic Christian church last Sunday left dozens dead and more than 100 wounded.
Easter marks the end of Holy Week, which includes Maundy Thursday, the day of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. Holy Week also includes Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified.
In predominantly Orthodox countries such as Russia and Serbia, government and church leaders attended midnight masses and held liturgy.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christian faithful, conveyed a message of peace during midnight mass at the Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Our faith is alive,” he said.
“This message – of the victory of life over death, of the triumph of the joyful light of the [Easter] candle over the darkness of disorder and dissolution — is announced to the whole world from the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the invitation to experience the unwaning light of the resurrection,” he said.
Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, delivered a gloomier Easter message. “With great sadness and pain in our hearts, we must note that today’s world is not following the path of resurrection but the road of death and hopelessness,” he said.
In Romania, another Orthodox Christian country, Patriarch Daniel asked members of the church to bring “joy to orphans, the sick, the elderly, the poor … and the lonely.”
Photo gallery: Christians around the world celebrate Easter