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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pope marks beginning of Easter festivities, first of his pontificate

ROME (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI began Easter celebrations, the first of his pontificate, commemorating the Last Supper and the traditional washing of the feet at a mass in Rome's St John in Lateran basilica.

"What makes man ignoble is the rejection of love, the refusal to be loved and to love," he said in his homily at the Holy Thursday mass attended by thousands of pilgrims. "Only love has the purifying power that removes our filth and raises us to the level of God."

The pope's reenactment of Jesus Christ's washing of the feet of his 12 disciples according to the Gospels broke from tradition. Benedict chose to perform the ceremony on 12 laymen instead of priests to underscore the importance he places on the role of the laity in the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope, whose pontificate began on April 19 last year, will mark the 12 Stations of the Cross at Rome's Colosseum on Good Friday -- a procession his predecessor John Paul II had been unable to perform in his declining years -- and deliver the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Easter message from the balcony of Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican.

Christians around the world mark Easter, the most important event in their religious calendar, as the day of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

Last year, celebrations were overshadowed by John Paul II's rapidly deteriorating condition. He could barely speak when he greeted pilgrims massed in Saint Peter's square on Easter Sunday, and the Easter message was delivered by a cardinal.

John Paul II died six days later, on April 2.

Pope Benedict had earlier Thursday celebrated mass at the Vatican with priests from the Rome diocese, of which he is bishop, when he commemorated slain missionary Andrea Santoro, who was murdered in a Catholic church in Turkey in February.

The pope will turn 79 on Easter Sunday.

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