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Tens of Thousands of Pilgrims Join Easter Mass at Vatican

  • Sabina Castelfranco

Tens of thousands of pilgrims joined Pope Benedict for his Easter mass and message at the Vatican and millions more watched the celebration on television from all over the world.

Bad weather did not discourage tens of thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans from turning out in Saint Peter's Square with their umbrellas to shield themselves from the rain. They arrived early to take part in Pope Benedict's Easter Mass, which celebrates the day Jesus rose from the dead.

Pope Benedict looked tired as he celebrated the solemn mass amid a scandal over child sex abuse by priests that has engulfed the Catholic Church. At the start of the ceremony, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano told the pope the faithful are not listening and will not be influenced by what he called "petty gossip".

His words were an effort by the Vatican to fight back against growing accusations the Catholic Church and the pope are responsible for covering up years of sex abuses by priests. The cardinal praised the pope as an unfailing and courageous leader.

The cardinal's words were believed to be the first time that the ritual of a papal Easter Mass was changed to allow someone to address the pope at the start. The change was an indication of the pressure being felt at the Vatican over the sexual-abuse scandal.

Speaking from the central balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, the pope delivered his "Urbi et Orbi" Easter message to the city and to the world. He turned his thoughts to the thousands of people who lives have been devastated by the recent quakes in Haiti and Chile.

He said: "May the beloved people of Haiti, devastated by the appalling tragedy of the earthquake, accomplish their own "exodus" from mourning and from despair to a new hope, supported by international solidarity." And he added that he hoped that the beloved citizens of Chile would set about the task of reconstruction with tenacity, supported by their faith.

Saturday, the pope celebrated an Easter Vigil in the basilica. A congregation of thousands lit candles and prayed with the Pope and his cardinals. During this holy week, the pope has made no mention of the abuse scandal.

Meanwhile, the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, stepped up defense of the pope in its Sunday edition, publishing messages of support from around the world and denouncing, what it called, slanderous attacks and defamation against the Church.

After celebrating his fifth Easter at the Vatican as pontiff, Benedict travels to the papal residence in Castelgandolfo to rest following this busy Holy Week. The pope turns 83 years old on April 16, a day before traveling to Malta. He also has trips planned to Cyprus, Portugal, Britain and Spain this year.