Pope Francis: ‘Even in time of pandemic, Easter proclaims the victory of life’

16 Apr 2020

By The Record

Pope Francis delivers his Easter message “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) after celebrating Easter Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican 12 April 2020. The Mass was celebrated without the presence of the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Vatican Media/CNS.

By Catholic News Service

Easter Sunday – Pope calls for a ‘contagion’ of Easter hope, peace, care for poor

In an Easter celebration like no other, Pope Francis prayed that Christ, “who has already defeated death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation”, would “dispel the darkness of our suffering humanity and lead us into the light of his glorious day, a day that knows no end”.

The Holy Father’s traditional Easter message before his blessing “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) still mentioned countries yearning for peace, migrants and refugees in need of a welcoming home and the poor deserving of assistance.

But his Easter prayers on 12 April were mostly in the context of the suffering and death caused by the coronavirus and the economic difficulties the pandemic already has triggered.

The Pontiff’s Easter morning Mass was unique; missing were dozens of cardinals concelebrating and tens-of-thousands of pilgrims from around the world packing St Peter’s Square. Instead one cardinal – Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica – and a dozen faithful sat inside, one in each pew, before the Altar of the Chair where the Pope celebrated the liturgy.

Yet millions followed on television, by radio and by livestream as the Easter “Alleluia” was repeated and the Gospel account of the disciples finding the empty tomb was proclaimed both in Latin and in Greek.

In a clear sign of continuing prayers to God for the end of the pandemic, the sanctuary around the altar again was dominated by symbols of Romans’ faith in divine intervention: the icon “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) and the “Miraculous Crucifix,” both of which were carried through the city centuries ago in times of plague.

Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican 12 April 2020. In the background is the “Miraculous Crucifix” from the Church of St Marcellus in Rome. The Mass was celebrated without the presence of the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Vatican Media/CNS.

Easter Vigil – ‘Even from the grave, Jesus brings life’

In a dark and nearly empty St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis blessed a fire, lit the Easter candle, and called Christians to keep kindling sparks of hope, knowing that Jesus has risen and death will not have the last word.

Easter is a reminder that “God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life,” the Vicar of Christ said in his homily on 11 April during the Easter Vigil Mass.

Just as in many basilicas, cathedrals and parishes churches operating under pandemic restrictions around the world, there also were no catechumens being baptised, confirmed and receiving their first Communion.

In his homily, Pope Francis echoed the sentiments of many people mourning the deaths of loved ones because of COVID-19 and facing the tensions of living in prolonged lockdowns.

Even after the Gospel proclamation of the Resurrection, Pope Francis spoke of how, for many people, “we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday”.

“We can imagine ourselves” like the women disciples preparing to go to Jesus’ tomb, he said.

“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.”

“Then, too, there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt. A painful memory, a hope cut short,” His Holiness said. “For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.”

Still, he said, the women were not “paralysed” by fear. “They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret; they did not morosely close in on themselves or flee from reality.”

Good Friday – Papal preacher: Pandemic rouses world from ‘delusion of omnipotence’

Pope Francis leads the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on 10 April 2020 at the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Photo: Andrew Medichini/Reuters.

The coronavirus is not some form of divine punishment but a tragic event that, like all suffering in one’s life, is used by God to awaken humanity, said the preacher of the papal household.

“The coronavirus pandemic has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence,” Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said during a 10 April service commemorating Christ’s death on the cross.

“It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us,” he said.

Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s Basilica, which was nearly empty and completely silent.

After processing into the sacred edifice in silence, the 83-year-old Pope, aided by two assistants, got down onto his knees and lay prostrate on the floor before the altar in a sign of adoration and penance.

During the liturgy, the Holy Father and a small congregation of nearly a dozen people stood as three deacons read the account of the Passion from the Gospel of St John. As is customary, the papal household’s preacher gave the homily.

While it can be a challenge to avoid the negative effects of the virus, including the death and illness of loved ones, Fr Cantalamessa continued, the current pandemic should be viewed more by its positive effects rather than its causes.

Another positive effect of the pandemic is the feeling of solidarity and unity around the world that has lessened the need for war and armed conflict.

Way of the Cross – Francis leads Via Crucis procession in empty, torch-lit St Peter’s Square

Pope Francis leads the Via Crucis procession in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 10 April 2020. The Good Friday service was held with no public participation because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Claudio Peri/Reuters.

For the first time in his papacy, Pope Francis led the Way of the Cross from St Peter’s Square rather than Rome’s Colosseum, where it has been held annually for more than five decades.

Two rows of torches lit the pathway from the stage set in front of St Peter’s leading down the square; they surrounded the famed ancient Egyptian obelisk that once stood in the Circus of Nero and is believed to be a “witness” to the martyrdom of St Peter.

The sounds of the Vatican choir chanting somber hymns broke through the eerie silence and echoed throughout the empty square on 10 April.

Vatican City and Italy have nationwide restrictions on public gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It is the first time since 1964 that the annual service commemorating Christ’s passion and death did not take place in the ancient Colosseum, which for centuries has served as a symbol of the persecution of early Christians.

This year, the meditations for the late-night event were written by members of the Catholic community of the Due Palazzi prison in Padua.

Various people from the prison – including a former prisoner, the prison director, police officers, a volunteer and the prison’s chaplain, Father Marco Pozza – took turns carrying a large black cross. The Vatican said five representatives of the Vatican City State health services also participated in carrying the cross.

The meditations on the traditional 14 stations were written not only by prisoners, but also by people directly affected by crime, including prisoners’ families, victims and even a priest falsely accused of a crime.