VATICAN CITY — Easter is a time for each Christian to recall the origins of his or her journey with Jesus, to renew his or her service to others and to remember the marginalized and outcast, Pope Francis said during his addresses over the Easter Triduum.
In his message and blessing urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and to the world), the Holy Father stressed that the good news of Christ’s resurrection “is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love.”
It 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,” he said. “‘Come and see!’ Love is more powerful; love gives life; love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.”
Noting this “joyful certainty in our hearts,” the Pope called on the Lord to help mankind to seek him, to overcome hunger and put an end to all conflicts, great or small. He implored the Lord to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, “who are at times exploited and abandoned.”
Peace Talks in Syria ‘Long Overdue’
Turning to particular suffering and tragedies, he prayed for humanitarian assistance in Syria and “long overdue” peace talks there. He asked that hope be sustained for a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians and for an end to conflicts and terrorism in the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Sudan.
The Pope, speaking under sunny spring skies from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, also appealed for “reconciliation and fraternal concord” in Venezuela.
Noting that this year the Latin Church celebrates Easter at the same time as those who follow the Julian calendar, he called for peace in Ukraine, “so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future.”
Referring to the ebola epidemic in three African countries, he called for care for the victims and for those “suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.”
The Pope also remembered those who cannot celebrate Easter, the persecuted and those who leave their own lands for a better future, often because they cannot freely profess their faith.
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
The Triduum began on Holy Thursday, with the chrism Mass in St. Peter’s and a homily in which the Pope spoke extensively about priestly joy: “a priceless treasure,” he said, “not only for the priest himself, but for the entire faithful people of God.”
He spoke of the smallness of the priest in contrast to the grandeur of his ministry, stressing that “no one is more ‘little’ than a priest” without Jesus and “left to his own devices.”
“I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness,” the Pope said, quoting the Gospel of Luke. “And in that littleness, we find our joy, joy in our littleness.”
The Pope singled out three significant aspects of priestly joy: that which anoints (fills the priest with grace), is imperishable (a joy the Lord has promised he will never take away) and is missionary (deriving from administering the sacraments).
He also said priestly joy has “three sisters” that surround it: the “poverty” of self-denial, the “fidelity” of being ever renewed to the Church as a Bride and “obedience” to the hierarchy, which enables “union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood.”
The Pope closed by asking the Lord to preserve the joy of the recently ordained, to confirm the joy of those who have ministered for some years and to “make better known” the joy of elderly priests.
After the Mass, the Pope had lunch with 10 Roman priests, listened to the challenges they face and encouraged them in their ministry.
In the evening of Holy Thursday, the Pope visited Rome’s Don Gnocchi facility, a rehabilitation center for the elderly and disabled. During the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Father again departed from traditional practice by washing the feet of 12 people, including one Muslim and an Ethiopian woman. In his off-the-cuff homily, the Pope underlined the importance of being “servants in love” of each other, as Jesus symbolically showed in the washing of the feet.
Pope Francis presided at the celebration of the Passion of Our Lord on Good Friday, but as is tradition, the homily was given by the papal preacher. Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, spoke this year about the dangers of idolizing money, Judas’ betrayal and the wonder of the sacrament of penance.
The meditations for the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) at the Colosseum were this year given by Italian Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini of Campobasso-Boiano, a former factory worker and longtime prison chaplain, who has championed the cause of the unemployed and strongly criticized Italian organized crime. His reflections recalled many on the margins of society, condemned sexual abuse and its cover-up and deplored domestic violence.
During his reflection at the end of the Via Crucis, Pope Francis said that, in the cross, “we see the monstrosity of man, when we allow ourselves to be guided by evil; but we also see the immensity of the mercy of God, who does not treat us according to our sins, but according to his mercy.” He also called on the faithful to remember the sick and all those abandoned under the weight of the cross, that they might find hope in the Resurrection.
Return to Galilee
At the Easter vigil in St. Peter’s on Holy Saturday, Francis pointed out that Galilee is where the apostles were first called and that each person has a “Galilee,” where his or her journey with Jesus began.
“To return to Galilee means, above all, to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey,” he said. “From that flame, I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.”
He asked every Catholic to recall his or her Galilee. “The Gospel of Easter is very clear: We need to go back there, to see Jesus risen and to become witnesses of his resurrection,” he said.
“This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.