Celebrating his fourth Easter as pope, Francis reminded the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and the wider Christian community, that as people who believe in the Risen Christ “we are called to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life.”
He delivered his hope-centered homily in St. Peter’s Basilica, on Holy Saturday evening, March 26, after listening to the reading of the Gospel account of the resurrection of Jesus. Earlier, in the atrium, he had lit the Easter fire and candle, symbolizing the resurrection of the Lord, and had then processed into the darkened basilica with that lighted candle, from which everyone lit their candles. On reaching the altar, he listened as the deacon sang the “Exultet,” the joyous hymn in Latin proclaiming the resurrection, creating an atmosphere of great joy. That joyous tone reached a crescendo, later in the celebration. with the ringing of bells and the singing of the ‘Gloria,’ led by the Sistine Choir.
“Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from the love of Jesus,” Francis told the some 8,000 Romans and pilgrims from all continents present in the basilica for the Easter vigil, after going through extraordinarily tight security checks. His words were also addressed to the much larger global audience of hundreds of millions of people that were following the celebration by radio, television, or the social media.
The Argentine pope recalled how the apostle Peter, having heard the women say that Jesus had risen, overcame his sadness and doubt and ran to the tomb where Jesus had been buried only to find it empty, and then he too came to believe that his Lord had risen. “He was looking for Jesus, not for himself” and “without giving into sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter his heart,” Francis observed.
“We like Peter and the women (who visited the tomb), cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope”, the pope said. “Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish,” he added, and “this is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves.”
Since becoming pope, Francis has emphasized time and time again that Christians are called to be people of joy and hope, and in his homily at this Easter vigil he prayed that Jesus “may free us from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives.”
Speaking at a time where there is much anguish and fear in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world, Francis told his global audience of believers, “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord ‘is not here, but has risen!’ He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will never let us down.”
He reminded everyone that “Christian hope” in not a question of optimism or a psychological attitude, rather it “is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him” and “this hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts." He made clear, however, that the Spirit “does not remove evil with a magic wand”; instead “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.” For this reason, “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.”
He told Christians worldwide that “as joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love;” and so “awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life.” This is “so necessary” today, he added.
Francis delivered his homily in Italian, during Mass which he concelebrated in Latin with cardinals and bishops, in the presence of ambassadors from many of the 180 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Then, as he has done on three previous occasions as pope, tonight too Francis went on to administer the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist to twelve adults (8 women and 4 men) from three continents and six countries. Six were from Albania, two from Korea, and one from each of four countries: Cameroon, China, India, and Italy. The youngest was a 22 year-old Chinese woman, Li Zhang, the eldest was a 60 year-old man from Korea, Yong-Joon.
At midday, tomorrow, Pope Francis will deliver his Easter Message, “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city of Rome and to the world), and reach a global audience estimated at around one billion people.