Prayers, penitents and the odd pig or two as the world prepares for Easter

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The Independent Online

It is a time for celebration, for Easter eggs, springtime festivals and the end of the dark days of Lent.

It is a time for celebration, for Easter eggs, springtime festivals and the end of the dark days of Lent.

From the Philippines to Iraq, from China to the Holy Land, Christians around the world have been participating in the processions, penitence and prayers of Holy Week.

Iraq's small Christian community, whose churches have been targeted by Islamic militants, ventured out on Palm Sunday bearing palm fronds to commemorate the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

Thousands of tourists have flocked to Spain for the spectacular religious processions by masked penitents throughout the week of sacrifice. On Tuesday night, crowds gathered in Murcia, southern Andalusia, to watch barefooted Spaniards of the Nazareno brotherhood carry a statue of Christ through the streets.

In the Philippines, deeply religious believers in the predominantly Roman Catholic country have marked Easter week in the traditional way by being hoisted on to a cross and nailed to it. Dozens of Filipinos engage in public self-flagellation, mirroring the suffering of Christ.

But foreigners have been banned from joining the crucifixion ceremonies after a Japanese man, who had said that he was praying for a cure for his brother's terminal illness, had himself filmed and used the footage in a porn film.

The security forces in the Philippines have remained on full alert during Easter week. The military announced yesterday that they had found eight sacks of explosives, hidden by the Muslim militant group Abu Sayyaf, ready to be used in attacks in Manila during Easter week.

As the world gears up for the joyful church services celebrating Easter Sunday, the event has been overshadowed this year by the illness of the Pope.

Britons may not recognise the Polish name of Pope John Paul II. A Reader's Digest survey showed 92 per cent of those surveyed could not say by what name Karol Wojtyla is better known.

But the thoughts and prayers of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics will be with the ailing 84-year old Pope, who appeared fleetingly yesterday at his apartment window in silence to bless the crowds of weeping pilgrims in St Peter's Square.

For the first time in the 27 years of his papacy, after being rushed to hospital for throat surgery on 24 February, he has delegated all his Holy Week activities to senior cardinals, except his Easter Day blessing. He will miss the Via Crucis service tomorrow at the Colosseum in Rome, marking Christ's passion and death.

But, as the survey seemed to confirm, for many people Easter has little to do with religious observance and is seen more as an opportunity for family fun and a long weekend. At the Royal Easter Show in Sydney this week, one of the highlights was Lisa the pig leaping from a diving board into a swimming pool at the annual Pig Racing and Diving display.

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