CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Pope Francis carries a candle as he arrives to celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 19,
Remember and reflect on the first moment you recall having encountered Jesus, Pope Francis urged the congregation in a packed St. Peter's Basilica in his homily during the Easter Vigil.
Referring to the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the pope noted how the women who went to Jesus' tomb were told first by the angel and then by the risen Lord to await him in Galilee and tell the disciples to go as well.
"After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over," the pope said April 19. Yet they were told to go back to Galilee, the place they first met Jesus.
Returning to Galilee, he said, means re-reading everything – "Jesus' preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning," one that begins with Jesus' "supreme act of love" in dying for humanity's sin.
Departing repeatedly from his prepared text, Pope Francis told people: "Have no fear. Do not be afraid. Have the courage to open your hearts" to the Lord's love.
Returning to Galilee, he said, "means treasuring in my heart the living memory" of "the moment when his eyes met mine."
"Where is my Galilee," the pope urged people to ask themselves. "Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?"
Pope Francis encouraged people to ask the Lord's help in remembering and in telling the Lord, "I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy."
His Easter Vigil began with the lighting of the fire and Easter candle in the atrium of the basilica; walking behind the Easter candle and carrying a candle of his own, Pope Francis entered the darkened basilica. In the silence and solemnity of the moment, very few pilgrims and tourists disturbed the atmosphere with their camera flashes.
As the bells of St. Peter's pealed the joy of the Resurrection through the night, torrential rains beat down on Rome.
CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass with at least 150,000 people in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 20.
But Easter Sunday was bright and sunny as Pope Francis gave his solemn blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) in St. Peter's Square to at least 150,000 people.
Again, he urged Christians to remember how they first encountered Christ and to share his love and mercy with others.
Celebrating the second Easter of his pontificate, the pope said evangelization "is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life's troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast."
Whatever is going on in one's life, he said, Jesus' victory over sin and death demonstrates that "love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness."
From the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the pope was overlooking the square where he had just celebrated Easter morning Mass surrounded by hundreds of flowering trees and bushes and thousands of daffodils, tulips and roses.
Pope Francis prayed that the risen Lord would "help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible."
He also prayed that Christians would be given the strength "to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned."
The pope offered special prayers for those facing serious difficulties and threats in various parts of the world: for victims of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa; the victims of kidnapping; migrants and refugees; and for the victims of war and conflict in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Venezuela.
In his "urbi et orbi" message, the pope offered special prayers for peace in Ukraine. He prayed that all sides in the current political tensions would avoid violence and, "in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country's future."