Pope appeals for peace in Syria, Mali, Nigeria, world's troublespots
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VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI appealed for peace and reconciliation around the world, singling out Syria, Mali, and Nigeria in his Easter Sunday message before 100,000 faithful in Saint Peter's square.
He also condemned discrimination and persecution of Christians in general, saying: "Christ is hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith."
On Syria, he urged an end to the bloodshed and commitment to dialogue to end almost 13 months of deadly violence there, as part of a wider appeal to give hope to the entire Middle East.
"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," he said in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" message.
"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," he said.
The pontiff also voiced hope that refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria who are in need of humanitarian assistance are given help to relieve "their dreadful sufferings."
His comments came ahead of a UN deadline next week for the regime to withdraw its troops from rebel cities, although Damascus insisted Sunday it would not do so without written guarantees, and after a brutal surge in violence with nearly 130 people killed on Saturday alone.
Turning to Iraq, he encouraged the people to "spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development."
He added: "In the Holy Land, may Israelis and Palestinians courageously take up anew the peace process," with direct talks between the two sides frozen since September 2010
In a general appeal for the Christian communities of the African continent, he called on God to "grant them hope in facing their difficulties and make them peacemakers and agents of development in the societies to which they belong."
He called for peace and stability to return to Mali after the coup there, and condemned the "savage terrorist attacks" on Christian churches in Nigeria.
"In Mali, now experiencing delicate political developments, may the glorious Christ grant peace and stability.
"To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens," he added.
But as he spoke, a car bomb blast outside a church in northern Nigeria left at least 20 people dead and scores wounded, according to rescuers, a stark reminder of Christmas Day attacks that left dozens dead.
Referring to other conflicts on the continent, he said: "May the risen Jesus comfort the suffering populations of the Horn of Africa and favor their reconciliation; may he help the Great Lakes Region, Sudan and South Sudan, and grant their inhabitants the power of forgiveness."