Reconcile with God, resurrect hope in others, pope urges at Easter

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden and Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Easter is a feast of hope, a
celebration of God’s mercy and a call to pray for and assist all who suffer,
Pope Francis said before giving his solemn blessing “urbi et orbi”
(to the city and the world).

The risen Jesus “makes us sharers of his immortal life
and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and
thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims
of oppression and violence,” the pope said March 27 after celebrating Easter
morning Mass.

Easter in Rome dawned bright and sunny; in St. Peter’s
Square, the steps leading up to the basilica were turned into an abundant
garden with thousands of tulips, daffodils and flowering bushes.

On Easter morning, the pope does not give a homily. Instead,
with hands clasped in prayer and head bowed, he led the tens of thousands of
people in the square in silent reflection.

After Mass, before giving his solemn blessing, Pope Francis said
Easter should give people the courage to “blaze trails of reconciliation
with God and with all our brothers and sisters.”

Speaking about Christ’s power over death and sin, the pope
prayed that the Lord would touch places in the globe scarred by war, terrorism,
poverty and environmental destruction.

“The risen Christ points out paths of hope to beloved
Syria, a country torn by a lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction,
death, contempt for humanitarian law and the breakdown of civil concord,”
the pope said. “To the power of the risen Lord we entrust the talks now in

He prayed that the power of the Resurrection would “overcome
hardened hearts and promote a fruitful encounter of peoples and cultures,”
particularly in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and the Holy Land.

“May the Lord of life also accompany efforts to attain
a definitive solution to the war in Ukraine, inspiring and sustaining
initiatives of humanitarian aid, including the liberation of those who are detained,”
he prayed.

On Easter and throughout the Holy Week liturgies that
preceded it, Pope Francis showed special concern for the fate of refugees and
migrants fleeing violence and poverty and for Christians facing persecution in
the Middle East and other parts of the world.

At Rome’s Colosseum Good Friday, after presiding over the
Stations of the Cross, the pope offered a long meditation on how Christ
continues to be scorned, tortured and crucified in suffering people around the

“O Cross of Christ,” he said March 25, “today
too we see you raised up in our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive,
throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.”

“O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the faces
of children, of women and people, worn out and fearful, who flee from war and
violence and who often only find death and many Pilates who wash their hands,”
he said.

Two days later, celebrating the Resurrection, Pope Francis
said the Easter message “invites us not to forget those men and women
seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees —
including many children — fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social
injustice. All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way
death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and

Celebrating the Easter vigil March 26, Pope Francis said
Easter is a celebration of hope, one that must begin within the hearts of each

“Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring
us out of our anguish,” he said in his homily. “This is the first
stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within
ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without
hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center
of our lives.

“Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration
of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his
love,” the pope said.

“The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the
living,” Pope Francis said. “After having found him, each person is
sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in
hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. This
is so necessary today.”

During the Easter vigil, Pope Francis baptized eight women
and four men, including Yong-joon Lee, the South Korean ambassador to Italy,
who took the baptismal name, Stephen. The ambassador’s wife, taking the name
Stella, was also baptized. The other catechumens came from Italy, Albania,
Cameroon, India 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, using a silver shell, poured
water over their foreheads.

Confirming the 12 during the vigil, the pope asked the
cardinals, bishops and priests present to join him in raising their hands and
praying over the newly-baptized so that God would send forth the Holy Spirit
upon them.

At the beginning of the vigil, after blessing the Easter
fire, Pope Francis entered a darkened basilica, gently illuminated by the light
of the Easter candle.

In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the
Gospel of St. Luke, the pope noted how the disciples doubted the testimony of
the women returning from the empty tomb.

Peter, he said, was the first of the men to rise and run to
the tomb, choosing not to “succumb to the somber atmosphere of those days,
nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts.”

“This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the
resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made
room for hope; he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without
smothering it,” the pope said.

Like Peter and the women, he added, Christians cannot
discover life by being “bereft of hope” and “imprisoned within
ourselves” but, instead, must allow Christ to bring life and break open
their tombs, sealed by “the stones of our rancor and the boulders of our

While problems will always remain, he said, Jesus’
resurrection is a sure foundation of Christian hope and not “mere
optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous.”

The Holy Spirit “does not remove evil with a magic
wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of
problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who
for us has conquered sin, death and fear,” he said.

Christians are called to awaken the same hope in the hearts
of others, Pope Francis said. Without such witness the church risks becoming
“an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet
incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.”

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