Incense, candle smoke and a cacophony of pilgrims' prayers filled the Jerusalem church that marks the spot where many believe Jesus was resurrected, as Christians around the world celebrated Easter Sunday.
Thousands of people crowded into the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher to hear Michel Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, proclaim the Easter message.With the church illuminated by hundreds of flickering candles and the air sweetened by the smell of incense, Sabbah declared: "Before the glorious tomb, together we proclaim our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ."
In a week marking high points on the Christian, Jewish and Muslim calendars, Sabah wished believers in all faiths "feasts full of joy and abundant life." He noted, however, that the Holy Land was "tired from the absence of peace" and the "siege and limitation of freedom" imposed by Israelis on Palestinians.
Sabbah's plea for peace was echoed at Easter celebrations worldwide.
In Rome, Pope John Paul II continued his Easter custom by appealing for reconciliation in the world's trouble spots, especially the Middle East. In England, the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, warned that bitter memories of violence can thwart the search for peace.
Celebrating Mass before 150,000 people in wind-whipped St. Peter's Square, John Paul prayed that Easter would encourage "those who have believed and still believe in dialogue as the way to settle national and international tensions."
At one point during the 90-minute service, John Paul, weary from conducting an Easter vigil the night before, appeared to almost lose his balance as he raised his arm to sprinkle holy water. One of his aides, an Italian bishop, moved quickly to lend a hand, but the 77-year-old pope quickly regained his footing.
After Mass, the pope read his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (Latin for "To the city and to the world") message from the steps of St. Peter's Church.
He then wished the crowd a happy Easter in 57 modern languages plus Latin, touching off cheers from groups of pilgrims and tourists when they heard the pope uttering their own language.
U.S. President Clinton spent a quiet holiday weekend at Camp David, attending Easter Sunday church service with his wife.
In England, Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said Friday's historic peace agreement on Northern Ireland "has the potential to transcend the bitter memories of the past."
"May Northern Ireland be given the grace to forgive evils that have divided whole communities and look forward to a new future," he said.
Carey's sermon was briefly interrupted by gay rights activists, who climbed on the pulpit to protest against the church's refusal to recognize clergy involved in homosexual relationships.
After the service, Carey said he was "saddened" by the disruption. "I do not think it does their cause any good."
Throughout Jerusalem, thousands of extra police and soldiers were deployed because of the threat of terror attacks in the holy city, where Jews are celebrating Passover this week. Muslim Eid al-Adha celebrations ended Friday.
Sunday was also Palm Sunday for the Orthodox Christian churches, which celebrate Easter next week. In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a procession of Coptic Christians carrying palm fronds walked slowly through the Easter crowds, singing in Arabic.
"It is rather like the tower of Babel," said Artur Petrig, a pilgrim from Weisbaden, Germany. "Of course, to be in Jerusalem for Easter, for a Christian, the main thing is not the surroundings, but the inner part, what it means."