Welcome migrants fleeing strife: Pope

VATICAN CITY Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:08am EDT

1 of 3. Pope Benedict XVI walks with his cross as he leads the Easter Mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, in his Easter message to the world, on Sunday lamented that the day's joy was marred by war in Libya and urged Europe to welcome desperate migrants fleeing strife in north Africa.

The 84-year-old pope, marking his sixth Easter as Roman Catholic leader, presided at mass for more than 100,000 people in a St Peter's Square bedecked with 42,000 bright flowers and plants donated by Holland to symbolize hope and love.

But Benedict, who delivered Easter greetings in 65 languages, wove his sermon around the contrast between the joy of the Easter season and the wars, poverty and suffering around the world, particularly in north Africa.

"Here, in this world of ours, the Easter alleluia still contrasts with the cries and laments that arise from so many painful situations: deprivation, hunger, disease, war, violence," he said in his twice-annual "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message.

Speaking of Libya, where civil strife has left many dead in the past three months, the pope called for diplomacy and dialogue to take the place of weapons and urged that humanitarian aid be allowed to get to those who need it most.

He called for respect for human rights in the Middle East and north Africa and appealed to Europe to welcome those fleeing conflicts from those areas.

"May help come from all sides to those fleeing conflict and to refugees from various African countries who have been obliged to leave all that is dear to them," he said.

Italy has complained about being "left alone" by European Union partners to deal with thousands of mainly Tunisian migrants who have arrived on its southern island of Lampedusa in recent weeks, fleeing political turmoil in North Africa.

"May all people of good will open their hearts to welcome them, so that the pressing needs of so many brothers and sisters will be met with a concerted response in a spirit of solidarity," the pope said.

Earlier this month tensions rose between France and Italy after France temporarily shut its border to trains from Italy carrying African migrants.

The immigration crisis is due to be at the heart of a meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome on Tuesday.

Benedict also called for the restoration of peaceful coexistence in Ivory Coast, saying the country had "an urgent need to tread the path of reconciliation and pardon" to heal wounds caused by recent violence.

Easter Sunday, marking the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion, came a week before the beatification of the late Pope John Paul, an event expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to Rome.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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