Pope Francis urged Christians to be “messengers of life in a time of death” as he celebrated the Easter Vigil in a nearly empty St Peter’s Basilica amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In his homily April 11, he said: “How beautiful it is to be Christians who offer consolation, who bear the burdens of others and who offer encouragement: messengers of life in a time of death!”
He continued: “Let us silence the cries of death, no more wars! May we stop the production and trade of weapons, since we need bread, not guns. Let the abortion and killing of innocent lives end.
“May the hearts of those who have enough be open to filling the empty hands of those who do not have the bare necessities.”
With the Vatican under lockdown, the congregation consisted of only a small number of clergy and lay people, who stood spaced apart as a precaution against spreading COVID-19. Officials confirmed an eighth case of the disease among Vatican employees April 8, but have reported no deaths.
St Peter’s, the largest church in the world, is normally packed for the Easter Vigil. This year, vast parts of the basilica were completely empty and silent. Microphones picked up the smallest sounds from the liturgy.
This year’s Easter Vigil liturgy was scaled back. The preparation of the Paschal candle was omitted due to “the health emergency in progress”, the Vatican said, as was the lighting of candles among the faithful.
Instead, the basilica was lit up gradually until it was fully illuminated at the Gloria, when the bells of St Peter’s tolled. No baptisms took place, only a renewal of baptismal promises.
The pope celebrated the Vigil at the Altar of the Chair, which was flanked by the miraculous crucifix of San Marcello and the Byzantine icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani.
In his homily, the 83-year-old pope noted that in St Matthew’s Gospel the women found Jesus’ tomb empty “after the Sabbath”.
“This is how the Gospel of this holy Vigil began: with the Sabbath,” he said. “It is the day of the Easter Triduum that we tend to neglect as we eagerly await the passage from Friday’s cross to Easter Sunday’s Alleluia. This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.”
“We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day. They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly. They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.”
“Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master? Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt. A painful memory, a hope cut short. For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.”
But the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed, the pope observed.
“Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower,” he said. “How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope! With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”
The pope said that the Resurrection gave believers a fundamental right: “the right to hope”. This is not mere optimism, he explained, but a gift from heaven.
He then referred to signs currently displayed in windows throughout Italy which proclaim “Andrà tutto bene” (“All will be well”).
“Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, ‘All will be well’, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts,” he said.
“But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.”
He urged listeners undergoing suffering not to give in to despair.
He said: “Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried hope, do not give up: God is greater. Darkness and death do not have the last word. Be strong, for with God nothing is lost!”
More than 107,000 people had died from COVID-19 worldwide as of April 11, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
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