Pope comforts Italian quake survivors on sombre Easter
Taking up a symbolic wooden cross for the final stage of the walk, the pope said he prayed for "all those who suffer" in the Abruzzo region.
Vatican City -- Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday comforted Italians mourning the nearly 300 dead from last week's earthquake in central Abruzzo in an Easter address to tens of thousands in St Peter's Square.
"Happy Easter to you, men and women of Italy, in particular those who suffer because of the earthquake," he said. "May the risen Christ ... inspire in all the necessary wisdom and courage to proceed united in the building of a future open to hope."
In his traditional Easter blessing following mass in St Peter's Square, the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics called for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and Africa.
"Reconciliation ... is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Benedict said.
"Africa suffers disproportionately from the cruel and unending conflicts, often forgotten, that are causing so much bloodshed and destruction in several of her nations," the pope added in the "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) message.
Benedict earlier celebrated mass in the famous square decked out in springtime flowers after ascending red-carpeted steps to take his place before St Peter's Basilica as Swiss Guards stood at attention.
The mass took place under an overcast sky on this Easter, which celebrates the Resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion on Good Friday.
Jesus Christ "died and rises in order to renew us, in order to remove from our hearts the poison of sin and death," the 81-year-old pontiff said in his homily, wearing white and gold vestments and gold mitre.
On Saturday evening, the German pope led an Easter vigil attended by some 5,000 people in St Peter's Basilica.
"The gravitational pull of love is stronger than that of hatred; the force of gravity of life is stronger than that of death," he said during the ceremony conducted in six languages including Latin.
On Friday Benedict presided over a "Way of the Cross" procession recalling the Christ's crucifixion at Rome's Colosseum, a sombre ceremony darkened further by Italy's earthquake disaster on Monday that killed nearly 300.
Taking up a symbolic wooden cross for the final stage of the walk, the pope said he prayed for "all those who suffer" in the Abruzzo region, wishing that "even for them the star of hope and the light of the risen Lord will appear."
The pope, who will turn 82 on Thursday, sent a message to an emotional funeral Friday for 205 of the 293 quake victims.
"In this tragic hour ... I feel spiritually close to you and share your anguish," said the message read out by his personal secretary Georg Ganswein.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attended Easter mass in the Abruzzo capital L'Aquila at a military academy outside the city where Friday's funeral took place.
As he arrived, the prime minister promised aid for survivors and thanked rescue workers.
"We'll manage to get you out of the tents as soon as possible," he told one survivor. Shaking hands with some of the hundreds of rescuers at the mass, he said: "Italy is grateful to you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Earlier in the day, only a few dozen attended an Easter mass celebrated by local Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari at a camp set up at an athletics track north of L'Aquila.
"My words are weak," he said in his homily. "I was afraid, I suffered like you. We're here to conquer that fear," he said.