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Across the globe, celebrations of Easter; In yearly message, pope urges peace in troubled areas

Pope Benedict XVI implored the Syrian regime Sunday to heed international demands to end the bloodshed and expressed hope that the joy of Easter will comfort Christian communities suffering because of their faith.

Benedict, struggling with hoarseness and looking tired, celebrated Mass on Christianity's most joyous holy day on the flower-adorned steps of St. Peter's Basilica, before a crowd of faithful that swelled to far more than 100,000 by the end of the two-hour-long ceremony.

Only hours earlier, the pontiff, who turns 85 on April 16, had led a long nighttime vigil service in the church. There have been concerns over his health, and he has recently used a cane in public appearances. He no longer walks down the basilica's long aisle, traveling instead aboard a wheeled platform pushed by aides.

At the end of Sunday's Mass, Benedict moved to the basilica's central balcony to read his Easter message "to the entire world," as he put it, delivering a ringing appeal for peace in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, and in Africa, citing coup-struck Mali and Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims alike have been hit by terrorist attacks.

"May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights," the pope said.

"Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community," Benedict said, making Syria the first of several strife-torn countries he mentioned in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (Latin for "to the city and to the world") Easter speech.

Christians throughout the world on Easter celebrated their belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion, and the day symbolizes hope. Benedict said that Christ is "hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution."

In Jerusalem, thousands of Christians gathered for Easter celebrations, crowding into one of Christianity's holiest churches, worshipping, singing and praying. Catholics and Protestants took turns holding ceremonies within the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

Thousands of Palestinian Catholics smashed egg shells against each other, representing Jesus' emergence from his tomb. They ate circular bread symbolizing his crown of thorns and greeted each other with the Arabic felicitation, "Christ has arisen," prompting the response: "Verily he has arisen."

Meanwhile, other Christians belonging to Eastern Orthodox churches, who celebrate Easter using a different calendar from their Catholic and Protestant brethren, marked Palm Sunday.

Several dozen Ethiopian Christians who also use the older calendar gathered in a niche of the Sepulcher church, wearing long white robes, decked in white, blue and black rimless hats. They sang in their ancient language, marking off beats with a silver instrument that made a rattling sound.

In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II took time to greet well-wishers gathered outside St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle after a traditional Easter Sunday service.

In the United States, Moravian Christian believers in North Carolina gathered for the 240th annual sunrise service in the city of Winston-Salem. It's one of the oldest and possibly the largest Easter sunrise service in the nation.

Brass bands assembled at Moravian churches across the city shortly after midnight, and at 1:45 a.m. they all played "Sleepers, Awake," before setting off on a two-hour circuit of their neighborhoods, stopping to play hymns and chorales on street corners and familiar landmarks.

"Moravians are stuck on tradition," said Dick Joyce, 62, who started playing trumpet in the brass bands at 12. "It worked 240 years ago, so we keep doing it."