Pope Francis has called on Christians not to let fear and pessimism “imprison” them as he delivered his Easter message.
Speaking amid tight security at the Vatican, Pope Francis said: “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control our hearts.”
The Pope’s message followed a condemnation on March 25 of the Brussels terror attacks.
Islamist violence is expected to be a prominent theme of his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Easter message.
Photo Getty Images
Many pilgrims cancelled their planned trips to Rome in the wake of the violence in Brussels, but St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican was packed when Pope Francis celebrated mass on March 26.
Pope Francis entered a darkened basilica with just a single candle guiding him. As he reached the altar, the basilica’s floodlights came on to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Delivering his homily, Pope Francis said: “Today is the celebration of our hope. It is so necessary today.”
The lengthy vigil service also included a papal baptism for 12 adults hailing from China, South Korea and other countries around the world.
On Easter Day, Francis will preside over Easter Mass and offer his annual Easter blessing.
On March 25, he denounced the “terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence”.
Meanwhile, Vatican officials distributed sleeping bags to 100 homeless people.
The police presence in the streets around the Vatican has been stepped up this year, as more pilgrims than usual are expected after Pope Francis declared a jubilee year for the Catholic Church, calling it a “Holy Year of Mercy”.
Pope Francis is celebrating a Mass of Jesus Resurrection in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City starting with 10:15 AM local time on Easter Sunday.
The Mass and the subsequent Urbi et Orbi (to the City and to the World) blessing will attended by thousands of devout Roman Catholics and will be livestreamed by the Vatican across the world.
The special Easter Mass commemorates the day in Christian faith when Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. It is the culmination of the Christian Holy Week, which is marked by numerous holy days and celebrations. It also marks the end of the Lent.
According to religious tradition, the resurrection occurred three days after Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and burial, marked as Good Friday on the Christian calendar. Holy Week is observed by most Christian denominations, including the Orthodox Churches, Roman Catholic Church and most Protestant Churches.
Pope Francis led his second Easter Mass and delivered the Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday in front of tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
After leading the ceremony that marks the holiest day in the Christian calendar, Pope Francis delivered his traditional blessing and address.
The pontiff prayed for peace in Syria and Ukraine and “an end to all war and every conflict”.
And he also prayed for those people around the world suffering from hunger, poverty, disease and neglect.
This is the second Easter mass and “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message Pope Francis, 77, has delivered as Pope.
Pope Francis led his second Easter Mass in front of tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square
The avenue leading up to the Vatican was filled with 35,000 flowers donated by the Netherlands.
“Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible,” Pope Francis prayed.
He appealed for more medical attention for those suffering from the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa and also prayed for the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.
Pope Francis asked God to “enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved… will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future”.
“We pray in a particular way for Syria,” he said, expressing the hope that the “defenseless civil population” will be protected from the violence and get the aid they need.
In reference to Syria, Pope Francis urged the international community to “boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue”.
Pope Francis’ message came as Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad marked Easter by visiting the ancient Christian town of Maalula.
Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass since becoming pontiff St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The pontiff once again preached the importance of acceptance and humility, qualities he has demonstrated continually in his first nine months as head of the Catholic Church.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Pope Francis began, quoting from Isaiah, a book of the Bible that includes prophesies foretelling the birth of Jesus.
Pope Francis has sought to change the image of the Catholic Church as a judgmental, lavish, inflexible institution since his election in March.
On Monday, he made a Christmas visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict and asked him to pray for him.
In Christmas Eve’s Mass, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of reaching out to the downtrodden, using the shepherds who were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth as an example.
“They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast,” he said.
“We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable,” he said in thanks to God and also a clear indication of the humility he encourages his flock to emulate.
Before Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis personally placed a baby Jesus doll in a replica of a manger, a custom usually performed by an aid
In his address to Vatican administrators on Saturday, Pope Francis said holiness was a practice of “deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers,” as he urged the cardinals, bishops and priests to avoid gossip.
Before the Mass, Pope Francis further inspired meekness, when he personally placed a baby Jesus doll in a replica of a manger, a custom usually performed by an aid.
The 2 1/2-hour Mass was the first of many services Pope Francis will lead during the holidays. On Christmas Day, he will deliver a “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the basilica’s balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis will also hold mass on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and another on January 6, for the feast of the Epiphany or “Three Kings’ Day”, celebrating the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
Pope Francis has delivered his first Easter Sunday message since being elected with a passionate plea for peace.
The newly-elected Pope used his “Urbi et Orbi” address to call for peace in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and across the globe.
Pope Francis singled out “dear Syria”, saying: “How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution is found?”
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar and pilgrims have attended church across the world.
Pope Francis has delivered his first Easter Sunday message since being elected with a passionate plea for peace
In his Urbi et Orbi (To the city and the world) speech, Pope Francis, 76, began with a simple “Happy Easter!”
The pontiff, who has begun his tenure by emphasizing humility, went on: “Christ has risen! What a joy it is for me to announce this message… I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons.”
Later in his speech, the Pope said: “We ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”
Pope Francis then mentioned troubled regions of the world in turn.
“Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long.
“Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort.”
For Africa, the Pope referred to Mali, Nigeria – “where attacks sadly continue” – the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
He added: “Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow.”
Pope Francis concluded by saying: “Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st Century.”
The new Pope has reinforced his image as a man of simple, down-to-earth tastes, not wearing the more ostentatious of papal costumes and, for the moment, not moving into the grandiose papal apartments.
Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his traditional Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) Easter message of peace in front of tens of thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Pope Benedict urged Syria’s government to end the bloody year-long conflict, and spoke of the trouble in Nigeria and Mali.
At a Mass on Saturday, the Pope warned that mankind is “groping in the darkness, unable to distinguish good from evil”.
Earlier, the Vatican confirmed Pope Benedict would be travelling to Lebanon for a three-day visit in September.
“May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights,” said Pope Benedict during his traditional Easter message.
“Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community.”
Pope Benedict voiced hope that the “many refugees” currently in need of humanitarian assistance “find the acceptance and solidarity capable of relieving their dreadful sufferings”.
Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his traditional Urbi et Orbi Easter message of peace in front of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square in Rome
For the West African nation of Mali, which was plunged into political crisis after army officers seized power in a coup two weeks ago, he said “may the glorious Christ grant peace and stability”.
And for Nigeria, which has been hit by inter-religious and ethnic violence, “may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens”.
However, as he spoke, reports were coming in of a deadly car bombing close to a church in the Nigerian city of Kaduna.
The theme of the Saturday evening vigil was the contrast between darkness and light.
The service was brought forward from its traditional midnight start in order not to tax the 84-year-old’s strength – and he was wheeled on a raised mobile platform along the central nave of a darkened St Peter’s Basilica carrying a single lighted candle, symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Gradually, as other believers lit their individual candles from a single flame, St. Peter’s was flooded with light.
During the Mass, the Pope also baptized eight new converts by pouring water over their bowed heads.
The pontiff’s official schedule – which recently saw him return from visits to Cuba and Mexico – is taking a toll, our correspondent says.
Pope Benedict’s elder brother in Germany has said that the pontiff- who turns 85 later this month – intends to cut back on foreign travel, as it wears him out.
However, the Vatican has confirmed the Pope has accepted an invitation by religious leaders in Lebanon to visit the country for three-days in September.
Easter is one of the most joyous celebrations in the Christian calendar, marking the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.