Faithful Brave Rain, Bin Laden to Hear Pope

Tens of thousands gather outside St. Peters for traditional Easter benediction.

ROME, March 23, 2008— -- Huddled under a sea of colorful umbrellas, tens of thousands of Catholic faithful flocked to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome today to hear the Pope's traditional Easter Sunday address.

The worshippers defied both rain and a threat from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

In an audio message posted online this week, bin Laden called Pope Benedict XVI the leader of "a new crusade" against Islam and vowed retribution against the European Union for publishing Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

The Vatican took the warning seriously, but even so, on St. Peters Square today, pilgrims far outnumbered the police.

The pope's message this year was one focused on international politics. In his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" prayer -- "to the city and the world" -- Benedict XVI called for peace in the conflict-ridden regions of Iraq, Darfur, and Palestine.

He also appealed for a second time this week for calm in Tibet, where Chinese government troops have cracked down hard on Buddhist monks and others protesting Chinese rule.

"How often relations between individuals, groups and people are marked not by love but by selfishness, injustice, hatred and violence," the pope said. "These are the scourges of humanity, open and festering in every corner of the planet, although they are often ignored and sometimes deliberately concealed, wounds that torture the souls and bodies of countless of our brothers and sisters."

Many on St. Peter's Square welcomed the pontiff's message.

"I think if you have a pope you have to use it, you have to project values, Christian values," said James Melanson, one of thousands of worshippers who had gathered to hear Pope Benedict speak. "It makes total sense to me."

But the Vatican also saw a moment of controversy this weekend.

At the midnight mass Saturday, the Pope baptized one of Italy's most prominent Muslims. Magdi Allam, a journalist and outspoken critic of Islamic extremism, called the day of his baptism the "happiest day of my life."

Though Allam's public conversion shocked some in Italy's Muslim community, the Vatican called it a private matter, and stressed that it should not be interpreted as an insult to Muslims.

Meanwhile, Christians the world over observed the holiest day in the Christian calendar.

In the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar today, Christians celebrated Easter mass at the first Catholic church in the conservative Muslim nation, praying for peace between the faiths.

The pope reached out to them and other Christians across the world at the end of his address, wishing the faithful a happy Easter in 63 languages.

ABC News' Christine Brouwer contributed to this report.