In Rome’s all-but-empty St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis implored the world to look upon Easter as a celebration of hope as the COVID-19 virus rampages around the globe.
Likening the pandemic’s impact to the fear experienced by Jesus’ followers in the days after the crucifixion, the Pontiff urged the faithful not to surrender hope in “the darkest hour”.
“They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly,” Francis said during Saturday’s late night Mass.
“They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts,” he said of the apostles.
“Pain was mixed with fear. Then, too, there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.
“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.
The Pontiff holds a tall Easter candle, which is lit for him, then the basilica’s lights are turned on — a symbol of joy and redemption.
But this night, when the basilica was illuminated, 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 meant that did not go ahead this year.
– with AAP