ROME — Pope Francis baptized 10 people from Italy, Albania, Cambodia, Kenya, and Portugal Saturday as he presided over the Easter Vigil, one of the most solemn services on the Christian calendar.
Francis processed into a darkened and silent St. Peter’s Basilica with a lone candle, which he used to light the candles of nearby faithful, who in turn shared the flame with their neighbors. Eventually, each of the 7,000 candles provided for the ceremony were ablaze, making the entire basilica twinkle.
The lighting of the candles, which slowly illuminated the basilica, symbolizes the light of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.
During his homily, the pontiff invited the faithful to “enter the mystery” of Easter. To do so, he said, means to being able to wonder, to contemplate, to listen to the silence and hear the “whisper amid the great silence by which God speaks to us,” and to not be afraid of reality.
“To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone,” Francis said, “beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty, and love.”
The pope said that understanding Jesus’ resurrection requires seeking a deeper meaning and not an easy answer “to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity, and our very existence.”
It requires humility, Francis said, “not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.”
After his short homily, Francis baptized five women, four men, and a teenage girl. Four were from Italy, three from Albania, and three others from Cambodia, Kenya, and Portugal.
“Do you want to be baptized?” the pope asked each.
During his catechesis at the general audience earlier in the week, the pope explained the significance of the rites on Holy Saturday.
“On Holy Saturday, the Church identifies with Mary and contemplates Christ in the tomb, after the victorious battle of the cross,” he said.
The Church, like Mary, Francis said on Wednesday, remains vigilant on Holy Saturday, keeping alive “the flame of faith” and “hoping against all hope in the resurrection of Jesus.”
Saturday’s Easter Vigil wrapped up a series of Vatican ceremonies leading up to Easter Sunday, including a Way of the Cross in Rome’s coliseum on Friday, during which Francis strongly condemned the beheading and crucifixion of Christians, amid “our complying silence.”
While the pontiff was presiding over Friday’s torch-lit ceremony, the official in charge of the pope’s personal charitable activity, Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, handed out 300 envelopes containing an unspecified amount of money, an Easter card, and a papal picture to Rome’s homeless people. (Last year, he handed out roughly $55 to each person.)
Tens of thousands of people are expected at Mass on Easter Sunday in St Peter’s Square, where the pope will deliver a blessing from the same balcony of the basilica where he first appeared on the night of his election in March 2013.