Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Light and darkness, truth and lies, hope and despair are in a constant battle in the world, but with his death and resurrection Jesus conquered sin and death for all time, Pope Benedict XVI said on Easter.
“If Jesus is risen, then and only then has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world,” the pope told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square before giving his Easter blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).
With the sun shining on the square — transformed into a garden with 42,000 flowers, flowering plants, shrubs and trees — Pope Benedict began the celebration of the morning Mass April 8 just 10 hours after having finished celebrating the three-hour long Easter vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica.
In his Easter message at the end of the morning Mass, the pope said every Christian can share the experience of Mary Magdalene, who was the first to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning.
The encounter “lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth,” he said. The risen Lord “frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity.”
The resurrection means that Jesus belongs not just to the past, but is present today, giving hope and comfort to all those who suffer, the pope said.
Pope Benedict offered special prayers and encouragement to Christians persecuted for their faith and to the people of the Middle East, asking members of all religious and ethnic groups to work together for the common good and respect for human rights.
“Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation” after months of violent battles between Syria’s government and opposition forces.
The pope also prayed for the people of Iraq, for Israelis and Palestinians, for those suffering famine and violence in the Horn of Africa, and for those suffering from conflict in Mali and in Sudan and South Sudan.
At the end of his message, he wished people a happy Easter in 65 languages, including Mongolian, Hebrew, Hindi, Chinese, Maori, Esperanto and Latin.
In English, he said: “May the grace and joy of the risen Christ be with you all.”
At the Easter vigil the night before, the pope welcomed eight adults into the Catholic Church. Among those he baptized and confirmed was Jason N. Emerick, a 36-year-old man from the Archdiocese of Boston. Two of the catechumens were from Germany and the others were from Turkmenistan, Italy, Albania, Slovakia and Cameroon.
Light, fire and candles were the symbols highlighted during the pope’s vigil.
Like Easter vigils throughout the world, the Mass began with the lighting of a fire. In the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica there was a large brazier full of blazing coals; an assistant lit a small taper from the coals and handed it to the pope so he could light the towering Easter candle.
A deacon carried the candle to the entrance of the darkened basilica and chanted, “The light of Christ.”
The smaller candle carried by Pope Benedict was lit and he got onto his mobile platform to be pushed up the aisle of the basilica in silence and what should have been darkness. Although announcers — in multiple languages — had asked the crowd not to use flashes on their cameras during the procession, bursts of light accompanied the pope toward the altar.
However, the cameras could not destroy the impact of the candles held by members of the congregation being lighted one by one and the glow spreading throughout the world’s largest church.
In his homily, Pope Benedict said “to say that God created light means that God created the world as a space for knowledge and truth, as a space for encounter and freedom, as a space for good and love.”
The light of Easter, he said, proclaims forever the fact that “life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies.”
The world needs the light of Christ and the light of faith, because darkness always attempts to obscure people’s vision of what is good and evil and what the purpose of their life is, the pope said.
“Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible,” he said. “Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?
“With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion,” he said. But when it comes to the more important matters, such as “the things of God and the question of good,” people can no longer see them.
“Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light,” he said.
Contributing to this story was Francis X. Rocca at the Vatican.