Easter Observed Amid World Troubles

Christians of different traditions around the world are observing Easter today, some amid violence and mourning.

More than 100 villagers on the tsunami-stricken Solomon Islands left their hillside camps to celebrate an Easter service at St. Luke's Anglican Church on the outskirts of Gizo.

They said prayers for those who died from last week's earthquake and tsunami that flattened several villages and killed more than two dozen people, and sang traditional hymns in a concrete church decorated with tropical flowers and palm leaves. The pastor, the Rev. John Pihavaka, urged his flock to remain calm and to share their remaining food and other provisions with those in greater need.

"We pray, especially for those people," one worshipper, 33-year-old Furner Smith Arebonato, told The Associated Press.

Solomon Islanders are predominantly Christian, and at least five churches of various denominations dot the hillsides around Gizo, according to AP. The Roman Catholic church was knocked down by the quake, but devotees gathered in the garden for their own Easter ceremony to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, three days after his crucifixion.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the dwindling Christian minority donned their Sunday best and prayed for peace and security during quiet Easter celebrations at home, fearful of the bombings and abductions terrorizing Baghdad's streets.

"Despite the sorrow and pain, we have been preparing for the feast, which is upon us, buying new clothes for the children," said Hiyam, a 42-year-old mother of two arriving for the traditional Catholic mass with her husband, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Iraqi Christian community, which stood at more than one million people before the 1991 Gulf War and is one of the oldest in the world, has shrunk over the years, with more and more people fleeing Iraq's insecurity for safer shores.

Also in Iraq, about 200 Southern Baptist soldiers held a sunrise Easter service led by U.S. Army Capt. Bruce Wagner. Wagner, a chaplain, regularly leads service for a small congregation of soldiers each week, reported The Cullman Times. The group met earlier in the week for a Good Friday service.

In his Easter message on Christianity's most joyous day, Pope Benedict XVI decried suffering in the world, lamenting the "continual slaughter" in Iraq and expressing worry over unrest and instability in Afghanistan.

Delivering his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Easter address from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the pontiff noted "how many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world."

As tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists listened in the square, Benedict read out a litany of troubling current events, saying he was thinking of the "terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons."

According to AP, the pope singled out what he called the "catastrophic, and sad to say, underestimated, humanitarian situation" in Darfur as well as other African places of suffering, including violence and looting in Congo, fighting in Somalia — which, he said, drove away the prospect of peace — and the "grievous crisis" in Zimbabwe, marked by crackdowns on dissidents, a disastrous economy and severe corruption.

Benedict said only a negotiated solution could end the drawn-out, bloody conflict in Sri Lanka, and said East Timor needs reconciliation ahead of elections.

Meanwhile, the leader of the world's Anglicans highlighted progress in the Northern Ireland peace process as an example of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation as he delivered his Easter sermon.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told the congregation Sunday at Canterbury Cathedral that both concepts were central to the Christian holiday's message and could be applied to resolve conflicts around the world.

"Step towards your neighbour," he urged, according to AFP.

"When in our world we are faced with the terrible deadlocks of mutual hatred and suspicion, with rival stories of suffering and atrocity, we have to pray for this resurrection message to be heard," the archbishop added.

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

Christian Post reporter Ethan Cole in New York contributed to this report.