REPORTING FROM ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday used his traditional Easter message to call for an end to bloodshed in Syria and for greater efforts to resolve other conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.
Before an estimated 100,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope called upon Israelis and Palestinians to "courageously take up anew the peace process."
Benedict expressed a desire that the hope symbolized by the resurrection of Jesus on Easter would allow for progress in 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."
He mentioned Syria in particular, calling for an end to the violence with "an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation" and humanitarian assistance to refugees.
Benedict is planning to travel to the region this year; the Vatican announced Sunday that he would visit Lebanon on Sept. 14-16.
The pontiff said in his Easter address that he wanted to send a message of hope to Christian communities in both the Middle East and Africa that are suffering from "discrimination and persecution." He singled out Nigeria as a country where Christians had suffered "savage terrorist attacks" recently.
Even as he spoke, news agencies reported an attack by Muslim extremists on Christians attending Easter services in northern Nigeria, in which about 20 people were believed killed.
Following tradition, the pope gave his Easter greeting in 65 languages. The address was given in Italian.
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Photo: Pope Benedict XVI attends Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sunday. Credit: Franco Origlia / Getty Images