Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Pope pleads for world unity in Easter message

PLAYING IT SAFE Even elderly priests and nuns had to go through metal detectors as the Vatican stepped up security for the pope's annual message on Sunday


A nun has her bag checked at an access point to St. Peter's Square at the Vatican prior to the pope's Easter Mass on Sunday.


Under heightened security that included airport-style metal detectors at the gates of the Vatican, Pope John Paul II used his Easter message on Sunday to plead for the world to unite to overcome terrorism and "the logic of death."

The pope, speaking to tens of thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, prayed for leaders who are trying to resolve conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, including the Iraq war and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

He called for what he described as the children of Abraham -- Christians, Jews and Muslims -- to rediscover their shared bonds.

The world, he said, needs to "find the strength to face the inhuman, and unfortunately growing, phenomenon of terrorism, which rejects life and brings anguish and uncertainty to the daily lives of so many hard-working and peaceful people."

The pope, who is 83, visibly frail and suffering from Parkinson's disease, has traditionally offered a message at Easter Mass that reflects upon world affairs. But this year, his comments came as Italy and the rest of Europe have grown increasingly anxious about the prospect of another terrorist attack.

On Sunday, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police officers patrolled St. Peter's Square, as well as nearby roofs and terraces.

Workers had sealed manhole covers to prevent bombs from being hidden in them, and small aircraft were banned from the surrounding airspace, officials said.

Even elderly priests and nuns were required to go through metal detectors and to allow their bags to be searched before entering St. Peter's Square.

The Italian government has increased security throughout the country for Easter Week, using more than 20,000 police and military officers.

In Rome, Via della Conciliazione, the main boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square, has been closed to traffic at night.

The people here have been especially wary in the wake of the terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain, last month, which was perceived around Europe as retribution for Spain's support for the Iraq war. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been one of US President George W. Bush's strongest allies in the war, and Italy has roughly 3,000 troops in Iraq. Berlusconi made a surprise visit to them on Saturday.

Italy's top terrorism prosecutor said last week that he knew of no specific threats against the country. Other officials said they had identified more than 13,000 sites that they regard as potential targets in Italy deserving of extra security.

On Sunday at the Vatican, where the Pope wished the world a happy Easter in 62 languages on a gray and unseasonably chilly day, some people said they had hesitated before attending Mass.

"For the past week my friends were telling me, `You're going to St. Peter's on Easter? You're crazy,'" said Rossana Fazi, 50. She said the square seemed slightly more tense than usual, though she was trying to stay calm.

Others were less concerned. David Valdivia, 45, an American who has been traveling around Europe with a gospel choir from San Diego, said he had not sensed a threat anywhere on the continent, including Rome.

"I feel pretty safe," he said. "I know that there is this undercurrent of fear of terrorist activity. Then again, we sing gospel music, so we have pretty strong faith."

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