EASTER offers a message of hope in people’s “darkest hour,” Pope Francis has said, as he celebrated a late-night vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, with the public barred because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pontiff likened the fears of current times to those experienced by Jesus’s followers the day after his crucifixion.
“They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly,” Francis said.
“They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts. Pain was mixed with fear. Then, too, there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.”
Francis added: “For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.”
Easter vigil Mass in the basilica is among the Vatican’s more evocative ceremonies. Celebrants enter in darkness, except for candlelight.
Pope Francis presides over a solemn Easter vigil ceremony in St. Peter´s Basilica empty of the faithful following Italy´s ban on gatherings to contain coronavirus contagion, at the Vatican, Saturday, April 11, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Remo Casilli/Pool Photo via AP)
The pontiff holds a tall Easter candle, which is lit for him, then the basilica’s lights are turned on, in a sign of joy.
But this night, when the basilica was illuminated, all its emptiness was painfully visible, and the footsteps of the Pope and his small entourage on the marble floor could clearly be heard as they walked in slow procession toward the altar.
Francis encouraged the faithful to sow “seeds of hope, with small gestures of care, affection of prayer”.
“Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope,” Francis said.
He acknowledged the difficulty of obtaining optimism, saying “as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate”.
Describing the Easter message as a “message of hope”, Francis urged Christians to be “messengers of life in a time of death”.
During Easter vigil Mass, adults converting to Catholicism are baptised by the Pope, but the pandemic containment measures forced elimination of that tradition during the ceremony.
Earlier on Holy Saturday, the Turin Shroud, a burial cloth some believe covered Jesus, and which was associated with a 16th-century plague, was put on special view in a chapel in the northern city, through video streaming, to inspire hope during the coronavirus outbreak.
Francis hailed the initiative by the Turin archbishop, saying making it visible meets the requests of the faithful who are suffering through the Covid-19 outbreak.
The linen, kept behind bulletproof glass in a Turin chapel, is shown to the public only on very special occasions.