VATICAN CITY — Jesus is the risen shepherd who takes upon his shoulders "our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms," Pope Francis said before giving his solemn Easter blessing.
With tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square April 16, the pope called on Christians to be instruments of Christ's outreach to refugees and migrants, victims of war and exploitation, famine and loneliness.
For the 30th year in a row, Dutch farmers and florists blanketed the area around the altar with grass and 35,000 flowers and plants: lilies, roses, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, birch and linden.
Preaching without a prepared text, Pope Francis began -- as he did the night before at the Easter Vigil -- imagining the disciples desolate because "the one they loved so much was executed. He died."
While they are huddling in fear, the angel tells them, "He is risen." And, the pope said, the church continues to proclaim that message always and everywhere, including to those whose lives are truly, unfairly difficult.
"It is the mystery of the cornerstone that was discarded, but has become the foundation of our existence," he said. And those who follow Jesus, "we pebbles," find meaning even in the midst of suffering because of sure hope in the resurrection.
Pope Francis suggested everyone find a quiet place on Easter to reflect on their problems and the problems of the world and then tell God, "I don't know how this will end, but I know Christ has risen."
Almost immediately after the homily, a brief but intense rain began to fall on the crowd, leading people to scramble to find umbrellas, jackets or plastic bags to keep themselves dry.
After celebrating the morning Easter Mass, Pope Francis gave his blessing "urbi et orbi," to the city of Rome and the world.
Before reciting the blessing, he told the crowd that "in every age the risen shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion -- the wounds of his merciful love -- he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life."
Christ seeks out all those in need, he said. "He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God."
Pope Francis mentioned a long list of those for whom the Lord gives special attention, including victims of human trafficking, abused children, victims of terrorism and people forced to flee their homes because of war, famine and poverty.
"In the complex and often dramatic situations of today's world, may the risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace," Pope Francis said. "May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade."
The pope also offered special prayers for peace in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Ukraine, and for a peaceful resolution of political tensions in Latin America.
The pope's celebration of Easter got underway the night before in a packed St. Peter's Basilica.
The Easter Vigil began with the lighting of the fire and Easter candle in the atrium of the basilica. Walking behind the Easter candle and carrying a candle of his own, Pope Francis entered the basilica in darkness.
The basilica was gently illuminated only by candlelight and the low light emanating from cellphones capturing the solemn procession.
The bells of St. Peter's pealed in the night, the sound echoing through nearby Roman streets, announcing the joy of the Resurrection.
During the vigil, Pope Francis baptized 11 people: five women and six men from Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, the United States, Albania, Malta, Malaysia and China.
One by one, the catechumens approached the pope who asked them if they wished to receive baptism. After responding, "Yes, I do," they lowered their heads as the pope poured water over their foreheads.
Among them was Ali Acacius Damavandy from the United States who smiled brightly as the baptismal waters streamed down his head.
In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the pope recalled the women who went "with uncertain and weary steps" to Christ's tomb.
The pope said the faces of those women, full of sorrow and despair, reflect the faces of mothers, grandmothers, children and young people who carry the "burden of injustice and brutality."
The poor and the exploited, the lonely and the abandoned, and "immigrants deprived of country, house and family" suffer the heartbreak reflected on the faces of the women at the tomb who have seen "human dignity crucified," he said.
However, the pope added, in the silence of death, Jesus' heartbeat resounds and his resurrection comes as a gift and as "a transforming force" to a humanity broken by greed and war.
"In the Resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others," he said.
Pope Francis called on Christians to follow the example of the woman who, upon learning of Christ's victory over death, ran to the city and proclaimed the good news in those places "where death seems the only way out."
Presiding over the Stations of the Cross Good Friday, April 14, at Rome's Colosseum, Pope Francis offered a prayer expressing both shame for the sins of humanity and hope in God's mercy.
A crowd of about 20,000 people joined the pope at the Rome landmark. They had passed through two security checks and were watched over by a heavy police presence given recent terrorist attacks in Europe.
At the end of the service, Pope Francis recited a prayer to Jesus that he had composed. "Oh Christ, our only savior, we turn to you again this year with eyes lowered in shame and with hearts full of hope."
The shame comes from all the "devastation, destruction and shipwrecks that have become normal in our lives," he said, hours after some 2,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. The shame comes from wars, discrimination and the failure to denounce injustice.
Turning to the sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis expressed "shame for all the times we bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have scandalized and injured your body, the church."
But the pope also prayed that Christians would be filled with the hope that comes from knowing that "you do not treat us according to our merits, but only according to the abundance of your mercy."
Christian hope, he said, means trusting that Jesus' cross can "transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh capable of dreaming, forgiving and loving."
— Cindy Wooden and Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
Christ renews a weary humanity, Pope Francis says at Easter Vigil
VATICAN CITY — During Easter Vigil at the Vatican Pope Francis noted that many people today mirror the sadness and grief of the women who went to Jesus' tomb thinking he was still dead.
However, the Resurrection, he said, offers new hope for those who have perhaps lost it.
“That is what this night calls us to proclaim: the heartbeat of the Risen Lord. Christ is alive!” the Pope said April 15.
It is the excitement of this message, he said, that made them hurry back to tell the others that Jesus had risen: “That is what made them return in haste to tell the news. That is what made them lay aside their mournful gait and sad looks. They returned to the city to meet up with the others.”
Like the women, each us has also visited the tomb during the vigil, he said, and urged Christians to “go back” with the women into their cities with news of Jesus’ rising.
“Let us all retrace our steps and change the look on our faces,” he said. “Let us go back with them to tell the news in all those places where the grave seems to have the final word, where death seems the only way out.”
The Pope told them go back and proclaim the truth that “the Lord is alive! He is living and he wants to rise again in all those faces that have buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity.”
“If we cannot let the Spirit lead us on this road, then we are not Christians,” he said.
Pope Francis spoke during his homily for the Easter Vigil, which he celebrated, as usual, in St. Peter's Basilica as the culmination of his Holy Week events. Apart from the vigil, Pope Francis will also celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square Easter morning and give his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.
After delivering his homily, Pope Francis administered the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – to 11 people, one of whom, Ali Acacius Damavandy, is from the United States.
In his homily, Pope Francis said that as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb in the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, it’s easy to imagine their uncertain steps and their “pale and tearful” faces.
These women didn’t run away, but remained steadfast, and were people that had took life as it came and “knew the bitter taste of injustice.” However, they were still unable to accept Jesus’ death, he said.
By imagining the scene as it plays out, we can picture in the faces of these two women the faces of many others who “bear the grievous burden of injustice and brutality,” he said.
“In their faces we can see reflected all those who, walking the streets of our cities, feel the pain of dire poverty, the sorrow born of exploitation and human trafficking,” Francis said, explaining that we can also see the reflection of those treated with “contempt” because they are immigrants.
“We see faces whose eyes bespeak loneliness and abandonment, because their hands are creased with wrinkles,” he continued.
The faces of these women also mirror “the faces of women, mothers, who weep as they see the lives of their children crushed by massive corruption that strips them of their rights and shatters their dreams. By daily acts of selfishness that crucify and then bury people’s hopes. By paralyzing and barren bureaucracies that stand in the way of change.”
Francis pointed to the pain of all those “who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified,” saying this is also reflected in the grief experienced by the two women.
The women can also represent the faces of each of us personally, he said, explaining that like them, many of us can feel driven to continue walking forward and not to resign ourselves to the fact that “things have to end this way.”
While we carry God’s promise of faithfulness inside of us, our faces, the Pope said, often we bear the mark of various wounds, including infidelity on our part or the part of another, or of battles we have lost.
“In our hearts, we know that things can be different but, almost without noticing it, we can grow accustomed to living with the tomb, living with frustration,” he said, noting that even worse, we can also convince ourselves that “this is the law of life.”
By doing so, we “blunt our consciences with forms of escape that only serve to dampen the hope that God has entrusted to us,” and walk, like the women did, the line between the desire for God and “bleak resignation.”
However, with the Resurrection the women suddenly and unexpectedly feel “a powerful tremor,” and hear a voice telling them not to be afraid, because Jesus has risen from the dead.
The message: “Do not be afraid, brothers and sisters; he is risen as he said!” is one that has been passed on from generation to generation, Pope Francis said, explaining that “life, which death destroyed on the cross, now reawakens and pulsates anew.”
“The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon,” he said, explaining that this heart is given to us and in turn, we are also asked to give it to others as “the leaven of a new humanity.”
In his Resurrection, Christ not only rolled back the stone to the tomb, Francis said, but he also wants “to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.”
Precisely when the religious leaders of the day, in collusion with the Romans, thought they they had the last word, God enters and “upsets all the rules and offers new possibilities,” the Pope said. “God once more comes to meet us, to create and consolidate a new age, the age of mercy.”
This, he said, is the promise that has been present from the beginning and which is “God’s surprise” for his people.
Pope Francis closed by saying that hidden in every life there is a seed of the Resurrection, “an offer of life ready to be awakened.”
He prayed that all would allow themselves to be surprised by this “this new dawn and by the newness that Christ alone can give,” and asked that we not only allow Christ’s loving tenderness to guide our steps, but that we also “allow the beating of his heart to quicken our faintness of heart.”
— CNA/EWTN News