By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Without Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, life would be without hope and human destiny would end only in death, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Easter message.
However, “Easter does not work magic,” and the human journey will still be marked by grief and anguish, as well as joy and hope for the future, he said April 4 in his message “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).
Humanity today needs to free itself from sin, not by making superficial changes, but through a true moral and spiritual conversion, he said.
“It needs the salvation of the Gospel, so as to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences,” the pope said in the message broadcast from St. Peter’s Square to millions of people worldwide.
In an unusual departure from the Vatican’s traditional Easter ceremony, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state, read aloud a message of Easter greetings and support for the pope before the start of the Easter liturgy in St. Peter’s Square.
In reference to the heightened criticism about how the church and Pope Benedict have handled clerical sex abuse cases, Cardinal Sodano told the pope that the church and “the people of God are with you.”
The cardinal thanked the pope for his strength and courage, and said Catholics’ faith will not be shaken by the “current petty gossip” and other “ordeals that occasionally strike the church community.”
The basilica’s steps and central balcony were carpeted with colorful tulips, hyacinths, blooming trees and other greenery; the more than 24,000 flowers and shrubs were donated by companies in the Netherlands.
Under a cold rain, Pope Benedict read his message and gave his blessing after celebrating Easter morning Mass with tens of thousands of people gathered in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Even huddled under umbrellas, the crowd was jubilant, chanting the pope’s name and waving soggy banners and flags.
The pope offered Easter greetings in 65 different languages, including Tamil, Aramaic, Chinese and Guarani.
The night before, during the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict baptized and confirmed a woman from Sudan, a woman from Somalia, two women from Albania and a man from Japan.
The pope also baptized a small boy from Russia. The boy’s godfather, a priest, hoisted the boy up in his arms to hold his head over the baptismal font.
The pope used a golden shell to pour the holy water over each catechumen’s head. The newly baptized, wearing white shawls, had a brief personal exchange with the pope when they brought the offertory gifts to the altar.
In his homily at the vigil Mass, the pope said baptism marks the beginning of a process of renouncing a world of greed, lies and cruelty and a culture that worships power.
Through baptism, the person is freed from the pursuit of pleasure, which has done nothing but destroy all that was best in humanity, he said.
Becoming a Christian is not “mere cleansing, still less is it a somewhat complicated initiation into a new association. It is death and resurrection, rebirth to a new life,” he said.
Once stripped of the “old garments” of one’s life of sin, he said, the Christian puts on new clothes of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Baptism is “the beginning of a process that embraces the whole of our life — it makes us fit for eternity,” so that a person is worthy of appearing before God and can live with him forever.
The next morning, after celebrating the Easter Mass, the pope called for an end to “the multiple tragic expressions of a culture of death which are becoming increasingly widespread, so as to build a future of love and truth in which every human life is respected and welcomed.”
He called on world leaders to find the inspiration and strength to promote economic policies that follow “the criteria of truth, justice and fraternal aid.”
In his Easter message, he called for an end to war and violence in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land; he offered consolation to persecuted Christian minorities, especially in Iraq and Pakistan; he denounced “the dangerous resurgence of crimes linked to drug trafficking” in Latin American and the Caribbean; and he expressed his hopes that the people of Haiti and Chile could rebuild the areas struck by earthquakes earlier this year.
The pope also called for peace and reconciliation in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Nigeria; and he asked that social harmony come to those places experiencing terrorism and social and religious discrimination.
Before celebrating the Resurrection, Pope Benedict presided over the candlelit Way of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum April 2.
“The day of greatest hope is Good Friday” when Christ, through his death, becomes the source of life for all of humanity, he said.
Christ’s gift of love on the cross transforms reality, he said, so that “from betrayal can come friendship, from repudiation, pardon, and from hatred, love.”
Thousands of people, most holding candles, attended the evening service and listened to the meditations written by Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
Under an awning on a hill overlooking the Colosseum, the pope stood and then knelt through the entire 90-minute service while women and men from Haiti, Iraq, Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Italy, as well as two Franciscan friars from the Holy Land carried a black wooden cross through and around the Colosseum.
After the 14th station, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the papal vicar for Rome, handed the cross to the pope, who stood and held it aloft.
Pope Benedict left the Vatican after the Holy Week and Easter celebrations to spend a few days resting at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
Reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer with hundreds of visitors gathered in the courtyard of the villa April 5, the pope said that like the angel that told the disciples Jesus had risen, Christians are called to be messengers of Jesus’ resurrection, his victory over evil and death, and bearers of his love to the world.
“Certainly, we remain men and women, but we receive the mission of angels, messengers of Christ,” he said.
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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.
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Editor’s Note: The text of the pope’s Easter message in English can be found online at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/urbi/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20100404_urbi-easter_en.html
The English text of the pope’s Easter Vigil homily can be found online at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20100403_veglia-pasquale_en.html
The English text of the pope’s remarks at the end of the Way of the Cross can be found online at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2010/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20100402_via-crucis-colosseo_en.html
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