By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In the darkness of night in St Peter’s Basilica as well as under dark skies unleashing torrents of rain on St Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI said the risen Christ vanquished the darkness of sin and death.
“It is true: In the solemn Easter Vigil, darkness becomes light, night gives way to the day that knows no sunset,” he said on March 23, giving his Easter blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city of Rome and the world) in St Peter’s Square during a storm.
“We pray that joy will be present among us despite these
circumstances,” he said at the end of the blessing, which capped a Mass
punctuated with thunder and lightning.
“Even this darkness today is like light,” the Pope said of the slate black sky.
Tens of thousands of people packed into St Peter’s Square armed with
umbrellas. Members of the Swiss Guard stood at attention despite the
rain dripping off their helmets and sending red dye trickling down
their backs from the helmets’ soggy red plumes.
The night before, Pope Benedict celebrated the Easter Vigil in St
Peter’s Basilica, lighting a fire and the large Easter candle in the
darkened church. During the Mass, he baptised five women and two men,
including Italian journalist Magdi Allam who was born in Egypt to a
Muslim family. The Vatican did not release the names of the other six
adults who joined the Catholic Church at the Pope’s Easter Vigil Mass,
but said they came from Italy, Cameroon, China, the United States and
Peru. During his homily at the vigil, Pope Benedict said that in
baptism, Jesus “comes to you and joins his life with yours, drawing you
into the open fire of his love,” and, therefore, into communion with
all who profess faith in him.
“Believers – the baptised – are never truly cut off from one another,”
he said. “Continents, cultures, social structures or even historical
distances may separate us. But when we meet, we know one another on the
basis of the same Lord, the same faith, the same hope, the same love,
which form us.
“Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world,” Pope Benedict said.
After celebrating the Easter morning Mass in St Peter’s Square, which
was decorated with thousands of mostly white roses, tulips and pansies,
the Pope prayed for peace in the world, especially in the Holy Land,
Iraq, Lebanon, Darfur, Somalia and Tibet.
“The astonishing event of the resurrection of Jesus is essentially an
event of love: the Father’s love in handing over his Son for the
salvation of the world; the Son’s love in abandoning himself to the
Father’s will for us all; the Spirit’s love in raising Jesus from the
dead in his transfigured body,” the Pope said in his Easter message.
Easter, he said, is a call for all people to reject hatred and
selfishness and be converted to love. “Let no heart be closed to the
omnipotence of this redeeming love,” he said. Selfishness, injustice,
hatred and violence “are the scourges of humanity, open and festering
in every part of the planet,” the Pope said.
“They are waiting to be tended and healed by the glorious wounds of our
risen Lord and by the solidarity of people who, following in his
footsteps, perform deeds of charity in his name, make an active
commitment to justice” and bring hope to areas of the world “bloodied
Rainstorms accompanied the Pope for the entire weekend, forcing him to
stay under a tent on March 21 during the Good Friday rite of the Way of
the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum.
The meditations for the rite were written by Cardinal Joseph Zen
Ze-kiun of Hong Kong and were marked by prayers for those who live
their faith in the midst of persecution as well as prayers for their
oppressors. At the end of the ceremony, Pope Benedict said, “The cross
is the source of immortal life, the school of justice and peace, the
universal patrimony of forgiveness and mercy (and) the permanent proof
of a self-giving and infinite love.”
The Pope said that by becoming human, dying and rising from the dead,
Jesus restored full dignity to humanity, a dignity that must be
claimed, defended and promoted for all people.