Hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders will pack cathedrals and churches Sunday to celebrate Easter, the holiest day of the year for Christians worldwide.

For Emil Wcela, a retired auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the day marking a central belief of the faithful -- the resurrection of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago -- comes at a particularly suitable moment.

"The world certainly seems to be in an awful mess today," Wcela said, noting events such as the terrorist attack on a college in Kenya in which 148 people were slain and a Germanwings co-pilot's crash of a jet into the French Alps, killing 150 people.

"We need desperately some kind of vision of hope, and that's what Easter gives us," said Wcela, 83, who as auxiliary bishop was based in Riverhead and visited parishes throughout eastern Long Island. "We know that the end of the story is the victory of Jesus Christ."

Christians believe that after Jesus was crucified by the Romans on what is known as Good Friday, he rose from the dead three days later -- Easter Sunday. The day comes at the end of the 40-day period of fasting, prayer and penance known as Lent, during which believers prepare for Jesus' resurrection.

Christians make up the world's largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion followers.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Around the world, churches are crowded with people attending Easter Masses and services, and sunrise celebrations are held on beaches and in parks. Locally, early morning observances were planned at Heckscher and Jones Beach state parks.

Pope Francis is to celebrate Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, his third Easter as pontiff since becoming the Catholic Church's leader in 2013. Saturday night, many of the faithful, locally and worldwide, attended Easter Vigil Masses.

In an Easter letter to Long Island's estimated 1.5 million Catholics, Bishop William Murphy wrote: "How changed is the world this Easter morn! How wondrous the truth on the lips of His faithful disciples! Can there be any chant more beautiful, any news more desired, any heart that could seek for more? Jesus Christ is Risen! It is true! He is Risen! Alleluia!"

He added: "The long Lent of human history was ended that first Easter Sunday morn when Mary Magdalen discovered that the tomb was empty and the body of her beloved Lord was missing. But that body, cruelly put to death on the tree of Calvary, was not missing. It was transformed! It was glorified!"

The Right Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, which includes Nassau and Suffolk counties, Queens and Brooklyn, had a similar message of hope in his own Easter letter to the faithful.

@Newsday

"The message of new life in Christ is not merely for some, or the chosen, or the righteous," he wrote. "The Incarnation seals the message for all God's people: All are welcome, all are saved, and all are redeemed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ."

Provenzano said, "This Easter message must not merely be proclaimed in our churches, it must be lived! It must find a place in our decision-making, our community interactions, our family lives, our workplaces, and schools -- not to evangelize, or preach, or convert -- but more simply to live."