Pope calls for “gestures of peace” in St. Peter’s Basilica

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Pope Francis participated in the Easter Vigil ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday evening with thousands of faithful pilgrims. The pope, plagued by knee and hip pain, could not preside over the Easter Vigil Mass himself for the first time. Instead, he participated in the service from a chair in front of the pews of the faithful. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, was the principal celebrant. Pope Francis himself read the sermon.

Some 5,500 people took part in the atmospheric ceremony. The rite began in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica with the blessing of the fire and the lighting of the Easter candle. Entering the still dark cathedral, the candles of the priests and then those of all the faithful were lit to the Latin call “Lumen Christi” (Light of Christ). The Pope entered the church in a long procession with cardinals and bishops. The candles symbolize the resurrection of Jesus, which is celebrated by Christians worldwide. This was followed by the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of Baptism.

In his homily, the pope called for bringing Jesus Christ “into everyday life: with gestures of peace in these times marked by the horrors of war; with works of reconciliation in broken relationships and compassion toward those in need; with acts of justice amid inequalities and truth amid lies. And above all, with works of love and fraternity.”

The pope called for being open to hope because the pain will not have the last word. “Too often we look at life and reality with our eyes turned downward; we stare only at today, which is passing away, we are disillusioned about the future, we close ourselves off in our needs, we settle into the prison of apathy while we continue to complain and think that things will never change. Thus we remain motionless before the tomb of resignation and fatalism, burying the joy of life. But the Lord wants to give us this night other eyes, lit up by hope, so that fear, pain, and death will not have the last word over us,” the Holy Father said.

At the end of his homily, the Pope addressed the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, directly. The latter was present in St. Peter’s Basilica with three deputies after being received by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Saturday. “In this darkness, you are experiencing, Mr. Mayor, ladies, and gentlemen of Parliament, the darkness of war and cruelty, we all pray with you tonight; we pray for so much suffering. We alone can give you our accompaniment, our prayer, and give you courage, and we accompany you. We can also tell you the greatest thing we celebrate today: ́Christ rises ́,” the Pope said, speaking these last words in Ukrainian.

On Friday evening, Francis had prayed the traditional Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum with tens of thousands. The Way of the Cross was held again after two years; it had been suspended during the pandemic.

Pope Francis will celebrate Easter Mass on Sunday (10 a.m.) – after a break forced by Corona, this time back in front of the faithful in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Afterward, the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics will proclaim his traditional Easter message and offer the blessing “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the city and the world”). Easter celebrations in the Vatican and around the world are overshadowed by this year by the Ukraine war.

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