April 2, 2024 // National

On Easter, Pope Asks Christ to ‘Roll Away’ the Stones of War

By Justin McLellan

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Just as Jesus removed the stone that sealed His tomb on the morning of the Resurrection, on Easter, Christ alone “has the power to roll away the stones that block the path to life” and that trap humanity in war and injustice, Pope Francis said.

Through His resurrection, Jesus opens “those doors that continually we shut with the wars spreading throughout the world,” he said after celebrating Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square  on Sunday, March 31. “Only the Risen Christ, by granting us the forgiveness of our sins, opens the way for a renewed world.”

Seated on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope asked the Risen Christ to bring peace in Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, and a host of other conflict-ridden regions in the world.

“In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine,” he said. “All for the sake of all!”

Pope Francis then appealed to the international community to ensure access of humanitarian aid to Gaza and called for the “prompt release” of hostages taken during Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, as well as “an immediate cease-fire in the strip.”

“War is always an absurdity, war is always a defeat,” he said, asking that the “strengthening winds of war” do not reach Europe and the Mediterranean. “Let us not yield to the logic of weapons and rearming. Peace is never made with arms but with outstretched hands and open hearts.”

As is traditional, the pope did not give a homily during the morning Easter Mass but bowed his head and observed several minutes of silent reflection after the chanting of the Gospel in both Latin and Greek.

Although the Vatican said Pope Francis stayed home from a Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum on Friday, March 29, “to conserve his health” for the Easter Vigil and Mass, the pope appeared in high spirits while greeting cardinals and bishops after the Mass. He spent considerable time riding the popemobile among the faithful, smiling and waving to the throngs of visitors in St. Peter’s Square and lining the long avenue approaching the Vatican.

Pope Francis holds his crosier in St. Peter’s Square after delivering his blessing at the conclusion of his Easter Mass at the Vatican March 31, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

The Vatican said some 30,000 people attended the pope’s morning Mass and, by noon, there were approximately 60,000 people inside and around St. Peter’s Square for his Easter message and blessing urbi et orbi (“to the city [of Rome] and to the world”).

On Easter, which Pope Francis said celebrates the life given to humanity through the resurrection of God’s Son, he lamented “how much the precious gift of life is despised” today. “How many children cannot even be born?” he asked. “How many die of hunger and are deprived of essential care or are victims of abuse and violence? How many lives are made objects of trafficking for the increasing commerce in human beings?”

“On the day when Christ has set us free from the slavery of death, I appeal to all who have political responsibilities to spare no efforts in combatting the scourge of human trafficking, by working tirelessly to dismantle the networks of exploitation and to bring freedom to those who are their victims,” he said.

An aide hands Pope Francis his candle, lighted from the paschal candle, at the beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 30, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

The evening before, at the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, March 30, Pope Francis reiterated that Easter is a promise that no matter how dark the world may seem and no matter how heavy the burdens one carries, victory belongs to the Risen Christ and all who believe in Him.

“Let us lift our eyes to Him and ask that the power of His resurrection may roll away the heavy stones that weigh down our souls,” the pope said in his homily.

“Let us lift our eyes to Him, the Risen Lord, and press forward in the certainty that, against the obscure backdrop of our failed hopes and our deaths, the eternal life that He came to bring is even now present in our midst,” he said.

Pope Francis delivers Easter message and blessing urbi et orbi (“to the city [of Rome] and to the world”) to the faithful from the balcony at the Vatican. (Foto CNS /Vatican Media)

In his homily, Pope Francis asked the congregation of about 6,000 people to think about what the women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body must have been thinking and feeling.

“The tears of Good Friday are not yet dried; they are grief-stricken, overwhelmed by the sense that all has been said and done,” the pope said. And, according to the Gospel of Mark, they are worried about being able to move the stone away so they can anoint Jesus’ body.

“That stone marked the end of Jesus’ story, now buried in the night of death,” the pope said. “He, the life that came into the world, had been killed. He, who proclaimed the merciful love of the Father, had met with no mercy. He, who relieved sinners of the burden of their condemnation, had been condemned to the cross.”

But, Pope Francis said, the stone also represents the weight on the heart of Jesus’ female disciples and the burdens carried by everyone who is grief-stricken and without hope.

“There are times when we may feel that a great stone blocks the door of our hearts, stifling life, extinguishing hope, imprisoning us in the tomb of our fears and regrets, and standing in the way of joy and hope,” he said. Those “tombstones,” he said, can come with the death of a loved one, a failure to do good, a missed chance to build a more just society and “in all our aspirations for peace that are shattered by cruel hatred and the brutality of war.”

But the Gospel says that when the women “looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back.”

“This is the Pasch of Christ, the revelation of God’s power: the victory of life over death, the triumph of light over darkness, the rebirth of hope amid the ruins of failure,” Pope Francis said. “It is the Lord, the God of the impossible, who rolled away the stone forever.”

“Even now,” the pope said, “He opens our tombs so that hope may be born ever anew. We too, then, should ‘look up’ to Him.”

“If we allow Jesus to take us by the hand, no experience of failure or sorrow, however painful, will have the last word on the meaning and destiny of our lives,” he said. “Henceforth, if we allow ourselves to be raised up by the Risen Lord, no setback, no suffering, no death will be able to halt our progress toward the fullness of life.”

“Let us welcome Jesus, the God of life, into our lives, and today once again say ‘yes’ to Him,” Pope Francis said. “Then no stone will block the way to our hearts, no tomb will suppress the joy of life, no failure will doom us to despair.”

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