Pope Francis has urged people to “not yield to fear” and focused on a “message of hope” as he led an Easter eve Mass in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica amid the coronavirus pandemic and called for an end to wars.
The pope drew a comparison between the Gospel account of the women who found Jesus’ tomb empty on the day Christians believe he rose from the dead and the uncertain state of the world today because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Then too, there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt. A painful memory, a hope cut short. For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour,” Pope Francis said in his homily.
“Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed. They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality,” he said.
“They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus. They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.”
In countries around the world Catholics followed Masses said by priests in their own empty churches and broadcast on television or over the internet.
“At dawn the women went to the tomb. There the angel says to them: “Do not be afraid. He is not here; for he has risen” (vv. 5-6). They hear the words of life even as they stand before a tomb… And then they meet Jesus, the giver of all hope, who confirms the message and says: “Do not be afraid” (v. 10),” the pope said.
“Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today. These are the words that God repeats to us today, this very night,” he said.
“Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: The right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, with a passing smile. No. It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own,” the pope said.
“Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, ‘all will be well’, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts. But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.”
The pope went on to encourage people to be “messengers of life in a time of death,” again condemning the arms trade and urging those better off to help the poor.
“Let us silence the cries of death, no more wars! May we stop the production and trade of weapons, since we need bread, not guns,” Pope Francis said.
“Let the abortion and killing of innocent lives end. May the hearts of those who have enough be open to filling the empty hands of those who do not have the bare necessities,” he said.
The Mass, which normally takes place in a church packed with about 10,000 people, was attended by only about two dozen, including a few altar servers and a smaller-than-usual choir. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, it was scaled back to eliminate several traditional features, such as the baptism of adult converts and a long procession up the main aisle of Christendom’s largest church.
All of the pope’s Holy Week activities were modified, taking place with no participation by the public.
It will be the same for the culminating event on Easter Sunday, when Pope Francis says Mass and delivers his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing and message.