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Pope ushers in Easter celebration with dramatic, candle-lit service

Pope Benedict XVI, carrying a tall, lit candle, ushered in Christianity's most joyous celebration with an Easter vigil service Saturday night but voiced fears that mankind is groping in darkness, unable to distinguish good from evil.

"Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies," Benedict, wearing white robes as a symbol of new life, told the faithful in a packed St. Peter's Basilica.

Still, Benedict worried in his homily: "The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil."

"The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general," the pope said.

"If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other lights that put such incredible technical feats within our reach are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk," he added.

The service began dramatically. The basilica was almost pitch-black as the thousands of faithful in pews awaited Benedict's arrival. After aides lit the candle for the pope, Benedict climbed onto a raised platform that was wheeled up the long main aisle to the central altar. The device is used to save wear and tear on the pontiff, who turns 85 on April 16.

Benedict, who has made the environment a theme of his papacy, made a reference to urban pollution in his homily. "Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars in the sky are no longer visible," he said. "Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?"

"With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify," Benedict added, saying that faith was the "true enlightenment."

During the vigil ceremony, Benedict welcomed eight adult converts to the church.

This morning, Benedict will lead Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square, then deliver a speech from the central balcony of the basilica.

In Jerusalem, thousands of Christians gathered Saturday near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and marched in processions brimming with tradition, taking turns to pray in the site where they believe Jesus was slain and buried.

They were led by Palestinian guards in black costumes richly embroidered with gold, topped with scarlet rimless hats. They rhythmically pounded their staffs on the cobblestone ground, providing a beat for believers to march.

They were followed by Franciscan monks in plain brown robes, clerics in black garb, and then laymen.

The believers congregated for prayer in the Holy Sepulcher.

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