Pope Benedict celebrated his first Easter Mass in Saint Peter's Square on his 79th birthday. A huge crowd turned out for the ceremony and to listen to the pope's Easter message.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists turned out for Pope Benedict's first Easter Mass in Saint Peter's Square, which coincided with his 79th birthday. There was a joyous atmosphere to celebrate the most important day in the Christian calendar, when Christ rose from the dead.
Pope Benedict appeared dressed in gold colored vestments and celebrated mass at the altar on the steps of the basilica. Families with children, nuns and priests and members of the Vatican hierarchy were present in the square as millions all over the world watched the mass on television.
Easter mass is celebrated in front of the icon of the Most Holy Savior, an ancient image of the face of Christ, known as the "Acheropita" - "not painted by human hands". After the pope's initial greeting, two deacons opened the doors and displayed the icon to all those present.
At the end of the mass, in keeping with tradition, the pope addressed the crowd from the central balcony of the basilica. In his Urbi et Orbi message - to the city and to the world - the pope turned his thoughts to Iraq, Iran, the Middle East and Africa.
Pope Benedict urged a negotiated and honorable solution to the crisis of Iran's nuclear program. He also prayed for peace in Iraq.
In Iraq, he said, may peace prevail over the tragic violence that continues mercilessly to claim victims. The Pope called for a global cooperation to combat terrorism.
Pope Benedict prayed that those caught up in the conflict in the Holy Land may find peace. He urged a patient and persevering dialogue to remove ancient and new obstacles.
He called on the international community, which re-affirms Israel's right to exist in peace, to assist the Palestinian people to overcome the precarious conditions in which they live and to build their future, by establishing their own state.
The pope also turned his thoughts to Africa, to the people of Darfur, who are living in a dramatic humanitarian situation, which is no longer sustainable, to those of Africa's Great Lakes region, where many wounds have yet to be healed, and to the other people in the continent who aspire to reconciliation, justice and progress.
"May the Grace and Joy of the Risen Christ be with you all,
the Pope prayed.