On Holy Saturday evening, Pope Francis presided in the Vatican Basilica at the Solemn Easter Vigil. The ritual began in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica with the blessing of fire and preparation of the paschal candle. The procession to the main altar with the lighted Paschal candle and the singing of the Exultet was followed by the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of Baptism during which the Pope administered the sacraments of Christian initiation to 11 neophytes from Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, the United States, Albania, Malta, Malaysia and China. The Pope’s homily followed the proclamation of the Easter Gospel.
In his homily Pope Francis said that many people today mirror the sadness and grief of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb thinking he was still dead. He said, “If we try to imagine this scene, we can see in the faces of those women any number of other faces: the faces of mothers and grandmothers, of children and young people who bear the grievous burden of injustice and brutality. In their faces we can see reflected all those who, walking the streets of our cities, feel the pain of dire poverty, the sorrow born of exploitation and human trafficking. We can also see the faces of those who are greeted with contempt because they are immigrants, deprived of country, house and family. We see faces whose eyes bespeak loneliness and abandonment, because their hands are creased with wrinkles. Their faces mirror the faces of women, mothers, who weep as they see the lives of their children crushed by massive corruption that strips them of their rights and shatters their dreams. By daily acts of selfishness that crucify and then bury people’s hopes. By paralyzing and barren bureaucracies that stand in the way of change. In their grief, those two women reflect the faces of all those who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified.
“The faces of those women mirror many other faces too, including perhaps yours and mine. Like them, we can feel driven to keep walking and not resign ourselves to the fact that things have to end this way. True, we carry within us a promise and the certainty of God’s faithfulness. But our faces also bear the mark of wounds, of so many acts of infidelity, our own and those of others, of efforts made and battles lost. In our hearts, we know that things can be different but, almost without noticing it, we can grow accustomed to living with the tomb, living with frustration. Worse, we can even convince ourselves that this is the law of life, and blunt our consciences with forms of escape that only serve to dampen the hope that God has entrusted to us. So often we walk as those women did, poised between the desire of God and bleak resignation. Not only does the Master die, but our hope dies with him.”
Pope Francis went on to say, “Unexpectedly, those women felt a powerful tremor, as something or someone made the earth shake beneath their feet. Once again, someone came to tell them: “Do not be afraid”, but now adding: “He has been raised as he said!” This is the message that, generation after generation, this Holy Night passes on to us: “Do not be afraid, brothers and sisters; he is risen as he said!” Life, which death destroyed on the cross, now reawakens and pulsates anew (cf. ROMANO GUARDINI, The Lord, Chicago, 1954, p. 473). The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon. The beating heart of the Risen Lord is given to us, and we are asked to give it in turn as a transforming force, as the leaven of a new humanity. In the resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.
“When the High Priest and the religious leaders, in collusion with the Romans, believed that they could calculate everything, that the final word had been spoken and that it was up to them to apply it, God suddenly breaks in, upsets all the rules and offers new possibilities. God once more comes to meet us, to create and consolidate a new age, the age of mercy. This is the promise present from the beginning. This is God’s surprise for his faithful people.
Pope Francis closed by saying that hidden in every life there is a seed of the Resurrection, “an offer of life ready to be awakened.” He prayed that all would allow themselves to be surprised by this “this new dawn and by the newness that Christ alone can give,” and asked that we not only allow Christ’s loving tenderness to guide our steps, but that we also “allow the beating of his heart to quicken our faintness of heart.”