Easter A "Day Of Resurrection For Us, Too"

Unidentified prelates celebrate an Easter vigil service in a tent-camp in L'Aquila, central Italy, attended by survivors of a major earthquake, late Saturday April 11, 2009. The European Commission says EU countries Germany, France, Greece, Spain and Sweden are sending technical experts to help Italian authorities assess the safety of buildings damaged by this week's earthquake. Rescuers pulled one more body from a collapsed building on Saturday, raising the death toll to 291. Some 40,000 people remain in temporary camps and in hotels and cannot return to their homes due to concerns that they might collapse or are already destroyed. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

Earthquake survivors across Italy sought comfort amid the tragedy that leveled their cities and killed hundreds of people, as they gathered for Easter Sunday Mass in makeshift chapels across central Italy.

The mood was somber in L'Aquila. About 150 faithful - mostly elderly people - celebrated the holiest day on the Roman Catholic calendar in L'Aquila's main tent city, where the population has declined to 1,300 from a peak of 1,700, as many with means find a more comfortable place to stay.

"Easter is the day of resurrection for us, too, because we are starting from zero," said quake survivor Corrado Mongelli, a 50-year-old olive oil producer. "I have huge hope for restarting and having again a life like I had before."

L'Aquila Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari, who celebrated Mass before a small statue of the Madonna and a crucifix hanging from tent wall, acknowledged their anger over the huge losses they had suffered.

"We are all a little bit angry with God because we never expected a tragedy this big. But even anger toward God is a sign of faith," the archbishop said.

"It's Easter for us as well, despite the rubble and the tragedy of the earthquake," Molinari told those assembled.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi arrived for Mass in L'Aquila with firefighters, many of whom had to deal with the loss of their own loved ones or property as they responded to the 6.3-magnitude temblor that killed 193 people, left some 40-thousand homeless and leveled thousands of buildings.

Brown-robed Capuchin monks helped move out dining tables and set up rows of chairs for the tent-city Mass, while rescue workers handed out traditional dove-shaped Easter cake to survivors of Monday's quake.

A traditional Easter meal of lamb was planned, and children were given large, cellophane-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs.

One of those helping with the food was Gabriel Cordero Gomez, a Spanish citizen who saw the effects of the quake on the television and decided he wanted to help.

Gomez, who was handing out the traditional Easter sweet called "Colomba" on Sunday, said that he bought the first plane ticket that he found on the Internet and within six hours of leaving he was serving meals for quake survivors.

Elsewhere in the tent camp, people busied themselves with the routine of their improvised lives, waiting for breakfast, lining up for a shower. And throughout the city, people lined up for the chance to request that rescue workers go into their homes to fetch key documents and prized possessions.

On Saturday, about 700 people were brought to their residences, where they directed rescue workers on which items to retrieve, L'Aquila fire chief Roberto Lupica said.

Lupica said no one else remained missing, but he did not rule out the possibility of finding further bodies as the work of clearing the rubble continued.

Agostino Miozzo, the head of the national civil protection agency, said workers were checking each and every home to see "when and if" families can return home "and resume their normal lives."

And in the meantime, he said "we need to make these tent cities livable."

While electricity has arrived in many of the tent cities, they were still without hot water.

Germany, France, Greece, Spain and Sweden are contributing to a team of 10 technical experts this week to help Italian authorities assess the safety of buildings, the EU commission said.

EU officials say Italy can also draw from a €1 billion ($1.35 billion) EU solidarity fund. The fund was set up to help member nations recoup costs after natural disasters.


Pontiff's Plea For Reconciliation In Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that reconciliation was the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and said the entire world needed to rediscover hope to end wars, poverty and financial turmoil.

(AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In his Easter Sunday message, delivered from the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, Benedict noted that he plans to travel to the Holy Land in just a few weeks and said he would bring a message of hope and love to the region.

The 81-year-old pope tripped as he climbed up to his gilded chair on the loggia, but recovered without incident and delivered his speech to the crowds below.

"Reconciliation - difficult but indispensable - is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said.

Benedict delivered his "Urbi et Orbi" speech - Latin for "to the city and the world" - at the end of his Easter Sunday Mass, attended by tens of thousands of people who packed St. Peter's Square and the boulevard leading up to it.

The piazza, decorated with yellow tulips, azaleas and other spring flowers, overflowed with the faithful who came out on an overcast day to celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection, the most joyous and important day in the Christian church calendar.

The crowd shouted "Benedetto" - Italian for Benedict - as they waited for him to appear at the loggia. They cheered as they awaited his Easter blessing, this year being delivered in 63 languages.

In his first greeting - in Italian - Benedict offered special Easter wishes for the victims of Italy's devastating earthquake, praying that they have "the courage necessary to go forward together to build a future open to hope."

In his speech, Benedict said it was "urgent" to find hope around the globe, despite mounting reasons for despair.

"At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of poverty, of disturbing climate change, of violence and deprivation which force many to leave their homelands in search of a less precarious form of existence, of the ever present threat of terrorism, of growing fears over the future, it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope," he said.

He recalled his recent trip to Africa in urging the faithful to keep up hope to combat poverty and wars.

"Africa suffers disproportionately from the cruel and unending conflicts, often forgotten, that are causing so much bloodshed and destruction in several of her nations, and from the growing numbers of her sons and daughters who fall prey to hunger, poverty and disease," Benedict said.

Benedict celebrated Easter Mass after presiding over the solemn, three-plus-hour Easter Vigil ceremony Saturday night. At the end of that service, Benedict sounded hoarse and looked tired.

But the pope - who turns 82 on Thursday - appeared well-rested by Sunday morning and held up well throughout the Mass.

He is expected to travel Sunday afternoon to the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome, for a few days of rest after the busy Holy Week services.

The pope's May 8-15 Middle East tour, his first to the region as pope, will include Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, with stops in cities including Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.


Easter In Baghdad

Iraqi Christians packed the Virgin Mary Church in Baghdad's Karradah district on Sunday to attend Easter mass.

The service was attended by about 200 people who expressed their happiness at being able to perform their own rituals freely again.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Christians have frequently been the target of attacks by Islamic extremists, forcing tens of thousands to flee.

Fewer than three percent of Iraq's 26 million people are Christians, the majority of them Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, with a small number of Roman Catholics.

The exact number of Christians left in Iraq is unclear but they are thought to number several hundred thousand.

(AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
Meanwhile, at the U.S. military base Camp Victory just outside the Iraqi capital, American troops also attended an Easter service.

The U.S. military chaplain, Jeff Mitchell, said that about 100 soldiers attended the annual sunrise service.
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