Mon, Apr 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Asia's Christians gather to commemorate Easter

CELEBRATION Christians flocked to churches across Asia, while thousands gathered at the Vatican to see Pope Benedict XVI give his first Easter address


Church bells rang out across Asia yesterday as millions of Christians celebrated Easter, while Pope Benedict XVI made his first address to the world's Catholics on the day commemorating Christ's resurrection, highlighting concern over Iran's nuclear drive and conflicts and poverty across the globe.

The faithful packed churches from the Philippines -- the largest Christian nation in Asia -- to communist Vietnam and China, where some worshippers prayed in hiding for fear of official persecution.

In strictly Muslim Afghanistan -- gripped last month by furore over the case of Abdul Rahman who faced the death penalty under Afghan law for converting to Christianity -- pockets of underground Afghan Christians held highly secretive gatherings.

Political overtones

In the Philippines, many marked the most important event on the Christian calendar with a traditional pre-dawn reenactment of Mary Magdalene's meeting with the newly risen Christ.

The country's senior church leader, Manila archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, said in a message read out at masses nationwide that the Philippines should follow the example of Christ to rise above months of political crisis.

At the weekend, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo announced a moratorium on executions, commuting all death sentences to life imprisonment in an apparent concession to the country's powerful Roman Catholic Church.

In China, all officially sanctioned Christian churches were to hold Easter services, according to Pastor Wang Di at the protestant Chongwenmen Church in Beijing.

Secret worship

However, for those Chinese worshipping in "underground" or unregistered house churches, Easter services would be conducted behind locked doors.

"As we are unregistered, the congregation has to meet secretly, but this is the case every week, not just because it is Easter," Hua Huiqi, member of an underground Beijing church, said by phone.

Thousands of Catholics flocked to churches in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, starting with a midnight mass at the neo-Gothic St. Joseph's Cathedral, built during the time of French colonial rule.

The Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa in India's eastern city of Kolkata held a special mass.

In Australia, the head of the Anglican Church said in his Easter message that modern society had distorted the true meaning of Christ's resurrection.

"Instead of it being about the re-creation of the earth and human society being put to rights, we've turned it into another worldly concern to do with going to heaven when you die," said Primate Phillip Aspinall, archbishop of Brisbane.

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called for peace across the world yesterday, his 79th birthday.

An estimated 80,000 pilgrims packed St Peter's Square and nearby streets as Benedict led his first Easter Sunday mass as Pope, and later greeted Catholics around the world in his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message.

In a veiled reference to Iran's nuclear standoff with the international community, he called for "serious and honest" talks which would help achieve "an honorable solution" for all parties.

He urged that peace would "finally prevail" in Iraq, where violence "continues mercilessly to claim victims."

Benedict said he was praying that leaders and international organizations "be strengthened in their will to achieve peaceful coexistence among different races, cultures and religions, in order to remove the threat of terrorism."

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