THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Special to Historic City News
Easter Vigil Mass in the basilica is among the Vatican’s more evocative ceremonies. Celebrants enter in darkness, except for candlelight. The pontiff holds a tall Easter candle, which is lit for him. Then the basilica’s lights are turned on, in a sign of joy. But this night, when the basilica was illuminated, all its emptiness was painfully visible, and the footsteps of the pope and his small entourage on the marble floor could clearly be heard as they walked in slow procession toward the altar.
Easter offers a message of hope in people’s “darkest hour,” Pope Francis said, as he celebrated a late-night vigil Mass Saturday in St. Peter’s Basilica, with the public barred because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pontiff in his homily likened the fears of current times to those experienced by Jesus’ followers the day after his crucifixion.
“They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly,” Francis said. “They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts. The pain was mixed with fear about their own lives. Then, too, there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.”
“For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour,” Francis said. “Tonight, we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope.”
Still, he acknowledged the difficulty of obtaining optimism, saying “as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate.” Describing the Easter message as a “message of hope,” Francis urged Christians to be “messengers of life in a time of death.”
During Easter vigil Mass, adults converting to Catholicism are baptized by the pope, but the pandemic containment measures forced elimination of that tradition during the ceremony.
The Shroud of Turin, a burial cloth that some believe covered Jesus and which was associated with a 16th-century plague, was put on special view through video streaming to inspire hope during the coronavirus outbreak. From behind bulletproof glass in a Turin chapel, it is shown to the public only on very special occasions. Pope Francis hailed the initiative by the Turin archbishop, saying making it visible meets the requests of the faithful who are suffering through the COVID-19 outbreak.