ROME  – Pope Francis and Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni exchanged greetings to mark Passover and Easter.

The two holidays overlap this year.



The holidays, Di Segni wrote to the pontiff, “represent both the link and the separation between our religions.” He noted that over history Easter often was the occasion of anti-Semitic attacks. Today, however, “these days are experienced by both faiths in joy and harmony,” a fact for which he paid tribute to “all those people who have been committed to this healing.”

Di Segni offered a prayer for the pope “in the spirit of respect and brotherly friendship” with the hope that the lord “renders us able to reciprocally understand the sense of difference and the value of brotherhood.”

In his own message to Di Segni on the eve of Passover, the pope prayed that “the Almighty, who freed His people from slavery in Egypt to guide them to the Promised Land, continue to deliver you from all evil and to accompany you with His blessing. I ask you to pray for me, as I assure you of my prayers for you, confident that we can deepen [our] ties of mutual esteem and friendship.”

On Sunday, Christian pilgrims from around the world marked Easter in Jerusalem, where Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead on Easter.

Pope Francis used his first Easter Sunday address to call for peace in the world and appealed for a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

In his first "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message, Francis also called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, an end to the civil war in Syria, and political solutions to conflicts in several African countries.

The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, who has made defense of nature an early hallmark of his pontificate, also condemned the "iniquitous exploitation of natural resources" and urged everyone to be "guardians" of creation.

Francis delivered his message from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica - the same spot from where he first appeared to the world as pope after his election on March 13 - to a crowd estimated by the Vatican at at least 250,000 people.

"Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow," he said, speaking in Italian.

North Korea said on Saturday it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea. Tensions have been high since the North's new young leader Kim Jong-un ordered a third nuclear weapons test in February, breaching UN sanctions and ignoring warnings from North Korea's sole major ally, China, not to do so.

Francis, who has brought a more simple and personal style to the papacy, said the message of Easter is that faith can help people transform their lives by letting "those desert places in our hearts bloom".

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