Pope leads Catholics into Easter

Apr 21, 2003 05:53 PM EDT

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II led the world's one billion Roman Catholics into the joy of Easter on Saturday night.

The 82-year-old pope, who appeared frail but in relatively good form, presided at an elaborate Easter vigil service in St Peter's Basilica, commemorating what Christians believe was the resurrection of Jesus three days after his death by crucifixion.

Wearing gold-colored vestments, the pope carved the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet -- Alpha and Omega -- on a large candle in the atrium of Christendom's largest church.

The ceremony started in darkness to symbolize the darkness between Christ's death and resurrection. As the candle was taken up the main aisle, the congregation lit their own candles and the lights of the great basilica were turned on.

The pope was wheeled up the basilica's main aisle on a new, specially built mobile throne to help him conserve his strength and take pressure off his legs, afflicted by arthritis.

He has been using it all week, as well as a new chair which allows him to say mass while seated at a high altar.

During the long, solemn service, which included chanting, the pope welcomed seven converts into the Catholic Church with a special baptism and initiation ceremony.

The main Easter event for the pope, now in the 25th year of his papacy, comes on Sunday when he delivers his twice-yearly "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing and message.

The message is this year likely to touch on the Iraq conflict.

The pope has referred to war and conflict in nearly all of his Holy Week ceremonies in the past six days.

By Albert H. Lee
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