Pope John Paul II presided over the lighting of a special Easter candle in a darkened St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday night to usher in Christianity's holiest day of the year.

The lighting of the white candle, which stood more than four feet tall, opened a service commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion on Good Friday.Thousands of pilgrims lit small white candles of their own as the pontiff led a procession to the altar of St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in Christendom.

After a deacon chanted three times "Lumen Christi" - Light of Christ - and the pope placed his candle at the altar, the lights of the basilica were switched on. The candles at the Easter vigil symbolized the risen Christ.

"Everything is renewed through love, which, on this Easter night, is revealed as stronger than death and sin," said the pope, sitting in white robes on an altar decked with sprays of yellow flowers.

After the ceremony, John Paul had little time to rest before Easter morning, when he celebrates an open-air Mass in St. Peter's Square. At noon, he gives his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world) message from the balcony overlooking the square.