VATICAN CITY — In a dark and nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis blessed a fire, lit the Easter candle and called Christians to keep kindling sparks of hope, knowing that Jesus has risen and death will not have the last word.
Easter is a reminder that “God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave He brings life,” the pope said in his homily April 11 during the Easter Vigil Mass.
The pope celebrated a pared-down Easter Vigil at the Altar of the Chair in the back of the basilica. In the homily, Pope Francis echoed the sentiments of many people mourning the deaths of loved ones because of COVID-19 and facing the tensions of living in prolonged lockdowns.
Even after the Gospel proclamation of the Resurrection, Pope Francis spoke of how, for many people, “we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.”
“We can imagine ourselves” like the women disciples preparing to go to Jesus’ tomb, he said. “They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly. They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.”
The women prepared spices to anoint Jesus’ body, he said. “They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.”
Easter, the pope said, gives believers “a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope.”
Easter hope is not simply optimism, rather “it is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own,” he said.
Calling for a ‘contagion’
of Easter hope
In an Easter celebration like no other, Pope Francis prayed that Christ, “who has already defeated death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,” would “dispel the darkness of our suffering humanity and lead us into the light of His glorious day, a day that knows no end.”
Millions followed on television, by radio and by livestream as the Easter “Alleluia” was repeated and the Gospel account of the disciples finding the empty tomb was proclaimed both in Latin and in Greek.
As is customary, Pope Francis did not give a homily during the Mass but offered his reflections before the “urbi et orbi” blessing, this year from the gates leading to the tomb of St. Peter under the basilica’s main altar.
The Easter proclamation “Jesus Christ is risen! He is truly risen!” goes forth from “the night of a world already faced with epochal challenges and now oppressed by a pandemic severely testing our whole human family,” the pope said. “In this night, the Church’s voice rings out: ‘Christ, my hope, is risen!’”
The proclamation of hope, new life and victory over death, he said, should be “a different ‘contagion,’ a message transmitted from heart to heart, for every human heart awaits this good news,” he said.
Pope leads Way of the Cross in empty St. Peter’s Square
For the first time in his papacy, Pope Francis led the Way of the Cross from St. Peter’s Square rather than Rome’s Colosseum, where it has been held annually for more than five decades.
Two rows of torches lit the pathway from the stage set in front of St. Peter’s leading down the square. The sounds of the Vatican choir chanting somber hymns broke through the eerie silence and echoed throughout the empty square April 10.
The meditations remained centered on those who share in Christ’s pain and suffering on the cross. Each year, the pope asks a different person to write the commentary and prayers for the service.
This year, the meditations for the late-night event were written by members of the Catholic community of the Due Palazzi prison in Padua.
The meditations on the traditional 14 stations were written not only by prisoners, but also by people directly affected by crime, including prisoners’ families, victims and even a priest falsely accused of a crime.
Minn. bishops give Easter blessing to the faithful in cars
By Joe Ruff | Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. — It snowed, but it didn’t matter.
It was windy, wet and cold, but people piled into their cars April 12 and waited bumper-to-bumper in a line that stretched eight or nine blocks from I-94 to the street in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul to accept an Easter blessing from Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The blessing was extended in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that has suspended public Masses in the archdiocese since March 18. It occurred in the midst of an order from state health officials to keep a social distance of about 6 feet from one another, to work at home, avoid mixing in groups of more than 10 people, and closed some businesses such as movie theaters while not allowing certain activities such as dining in restaurants.
“Happy Easter,” the bishops called out to people in each passing vehicle, which by the end of two hours numbered in the hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand. “May Almighty God bless you, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
“That goes double for those in the back,” Archbishop Hebda called out, smiling, to one car filled with family members.
They didn’t expect to cause a traffic jam, the bishops said. But their joy at seeing people was infectious. The archbishop lost his miter to the wind and picked it up from the sidewalk at least twice, and joked about it. They braved the cold and said hello to everyone.
The bishops issued the invitation to the blessing in St. Paul in a video on YouTube that included Bishop Cozzens saying, “We really want to wish you a blessed Easter Triduum. And actually, this coming Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, we would love to see you, in person.”
The archbishop recounted how in his youth in Pittsburgh his family each Easter drove to receive the bishop’s blessing. “We’d love to have the opportunity as you drive by to offer you an Easter blessing,” the archbishop said in the video. “See you there.”
Cdl. Dolan: ‘Our faith needs to kick in’ amid pandemic crisis
WASHINGTON — Appearing on the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said faith is key, even as people are in isolation from others as a result of the stay-at-home orders imposed to slow a worsening of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just as you have faith that the person you love is still enjoying eternal life and is still with you, so our faith needs to kick in that even if we can’t be next to Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa and even if we can’t embrace the family at a time of mourning, our faith tells us we’re still united. We’re still together,” Cardinal Dolan said in the “60 Minutes” installment that aired on Easter, April 12.
“Faith, of course, doesn’t depend on things physical. And we have faith these days that even though we can’t sadly get to the synagogue or to our parish churches, we can still be in union with God through prayer, through sincerity, through earnestness, through charity to others,” the cardinal said in the interview, a transcript of which was provided by CBS News.
“And, thanks be to God, so many are using the technological advances that we have, livestreaming, radio, TV, you name it. People are — are plugging in it, at overwhelming numbers to be part of a community at Easter.”
Cardinal Dolan, interviewed by “60 Minutes” correspondent Margaret Brennan, said he has told those in mourning over COVID-19 deaths that “your grief is complicated because not only have you lost someone you cherish, you were even unable to be next to them in their last moments. And you’re unable even to, to mourn and cry and hug one another here at graveside.”
He added, “This is an extended, enhanced, deepened sense of grief, which I hope whenever we got that loss, whenever we got that emptiness, you know, who wants to fill it: God. So I’m hoping it’s an invitation from him that as we’re empty, he will fill.”