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Pope Benedict Appeals for Peace to Begin Christian Holy Week

Pope Benedict XVI made a strong appeal for peace in Iraq at the end of Palm Sunday mass in Saint Peter's Square. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome thousands of people took part in the service, which marked the start of the Roman Catholic Church's Holy Week celebrations.

Just days after the body of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop in Iraq was found, the pope made a strong appeal for peace in the country. The Pope spoke at the end of Palm Sunday mass in Saint Peter's Square to denounce the five-year-old Iraqi war, which he said caused the complete breakup of Iraqi civil and social life.

Pope Benedict said: "Enough with the slaughters, enough with the violence, enough with the hatred in Iraq!" And the crowd of thousands of pilgrims broke out in applause.

The body of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was found Thursday near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The pope who has called the prelate's death an inhuman act of violence praised his loyalty to the church.

The pope said the archbishop refused to abandon his flock, despite the many threats and difficulties. Benedict will be presiding over a Vatican memorial service on Monday to honor Rahho.

Benedict also used the occasion to make an appeal to the Iraqi people. He called for them to raise their heads and reconstruct their life through reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and coexistence among tribal, ethnic, and religious groups.

The Palm Sunday service, which kicked off Holy Week celebrations for the Catholic Church, was attended by thousands of enthusiastic young people and festive pilgrims. They carried palm leaves and olive branches, which the pope blessed at the start of the mass.

For Christians, Palm Sunday marks the day the Church celebrates the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The pope reminded them that Jesus did not enter the holy city to be crowned, but to be condemned and crucified.

He told the crowd that during Holy Week the faithful would be recalling the most sublime drama in history, the drama of our salvation, when Jesus died on the cross. In his homily, the pope urged them to follow God with the innocence and purity of a child's heart.

The Pope has a busy week of holy week ceremonies ahead of him, including a Passion of the Lord service and Way of the Cross at the Coliseum on Good Friday. Celebrations will culminate on next Sunday when the pope will deliver his traditional Easter blessing to the city and the world.