ROME — Pope Francis on Holy Saturday underlined several of the key themes of his papacy, calling on Christians to leave their self-centeredness behind and warning that the Holy Spirit is not a magic worker who removes evil “with a magic wand.”
“We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope,” Francis said, referring to a passage from the Gospel which tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection appearances to Peter and several female disciples.
“Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord so that he may enter and grant us life,” he said on Saturday, as he was presiding over the Easter Vigil in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica.
In effect, the line was an Easter version of the same call Francis has been issuing to Christians from the beginning to stop being obsessed with themselves and to focus on others, often expressed in his insistence that the Church “get out of the sacristy and into the street.”
Saturday’s ceremony began with the pontiff processing into a darkened and silent church carrying a lone candle, which he used to light the candles of nearby faithful, who in turn shared the flame with those around themselves.
Close to 7,000 candles were provided for the event, making the entire basilica twinkle once they were all lit up. This gesture symbolizes the light of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.
During the Easter Vigil ceremony, one of the most solemn services on the Christian calendar, Francis baptized 12 people from China, Korea, Italy, Cameroon and India.
Francis said that Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of the Christian hope, “which is not mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous.”
This hope, which the pope said comes from the Holy Spirit, “does not make everything look appealing” because he doesn’t “remove evil with a magic wand.”
Saturday’s Easter Vigil wrapped up a series of ceremonies in the Vatican leading up to Easter Sunday.
On Holy Thursday, the pope celebrated Mass at a center for refugees and asylum-seekers, where he washed the feet of 12 people, including not only Catholics but also a Muslim, an Orthodox Christian, and a Hindu, in a gesture that re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified.
“We’re brothers, children of the same God,” he said. “We want to live in peace, integrated.”
On Good Friday, he presided over the Way of the Cross, comparing Jesus’ death to present day realities such as war, migration, terrorism, and religious persecution.
As Francis was leading this ceremony, which through 14 stations reflects on what happened to Jesus from the moment he was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate until his burial, the official in charge of the pope’s personal charitable activity presided over his own “Via Crucis in the City.”
Accompanied by residents of the “Gift of Mercy” dormitory, which provides a residence for homeless people, Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski distributed sleeping bags and what the Vatican described as “a small gift from Pope Francis,” to about 100 “stations.”
Last year, also on Good Friday, Krajewski handed out 300 envelopes containing an unspecified amount of money, an Easter card, and a papal picture to Rome’s homeless people. In 2014 he’d handed out roughly $55 to each person.
Tens of thousands of people are expected at Mass on Easter Sunday in St. Peter’s Square, after which he’ll deliver a blessing from the same balcony of the basilica where he first appeared on the night of his election in March 2013.