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Nuncio: Evangelization, mercy, encounter mark pope’s first four years


Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — Evangelization, mercy, encounter and accompaniment are the hallmarks of the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, said March 15.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis' papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, addresses the audience during a discussion March 15 in New York City on the first four years of Pope Francis’ papacy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“First and foremost, Pope Francis is committed to the work of evangelization. The main role of the church is to evangelize, to receive the gospel and offer it to the world,” he said in a conversation in New York with Jesuit Father Matthew F. Malone, president and editor-in-chief of America Media.

“The raison d’etre of the church is evangelization. It’s not a business, it’s not an organization or an association for the defense of Jesus, but a group called to announce God’s presence to humanity,” Archbishop Pierre said.

At a meeting of cardinals before the conclave that elected him pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio reflected on the challenges Pope Benedict’s successor should address. Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ handwritten notes from his talk were a blueprint for his papacy.

In them, Pope Francis underscored the importance of evangelizing with apostolic zeal and going to the peripheries of sin, pain, injustice and misery to reach people. He warned that when the church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and sick. He wrote, “The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-reference and a kind of theological narcissism.”

Cardinal Bergoglio said the next pope, “must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the church go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her be the fruitful mother, who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

“The church is a continuation of Christ in the world,” Archbishop Pierre said. And the pope continues to insist it is time not to rest, but to go to the many peripheries to be God’s presence to the people who suffer, he said.

He expanded on the pope’s familiar description of the church as a field hospital. “It’s very simple. It’s a tent where you attend people. Be there. Don’t waste time. That’s where you meet wounded people.”

Father Malone said Jesus, the source of joy in the Gospels, is the medication in the field hospital. Pope Francis pictures himself as a patient in the hospital, not the doctor, he said.

People have rediscovered the sacrament of penance during this papacy because Pope Francis identifies himself as a sinner and is seen going to confession, Archbishop Pierre said. “Many had abandoned the sacrament of reconciliation, but have rediscovered the necessity of receiving the forgiveness of God and giving it to others,” he said.

When the pope speaks of mercy, it is not only a human virtue, but a gift from God, and people are the first target of God’s mercy, Archbishop Pierre said. “Our church is a merciful church. We present truth in a respectful way. Mercy means dialogue and walking along the path of the other,” he said.

“I’m impressed to see the capacity Pope Francis has to meet people,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Politicians want to see the pope, not just for the photo, but for the encounter. I have seen politicians transformed.”

He recounted the pope’s visit to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of Lutheranism. “We’ve had the idea that Luther is the enemy,” the nuncio said. But Pope Francis had an encounter with Lutheran leaders there and said Luther is part of the history of the Catholic Church. The pope speaks with his actions, Archbishop Pierre said.

The nuncio said Pope Francis approaches dialogue as an important ingredient of public life. People who dialogue successfully must be rooted in their own convictions and faith. In this way, dialogue is “two rooted persons looking for the truth,” he said.

The pope is hard on bishops and priests because he wants them to be masters of discernment and help people develop the capacity to choose between good and bad, Archbishop Pierre said. It is not enough to identify right from wrong, he said. If the understanding is not applied to personal actions, life will be a dichotomy.

Archbishop Pierre said Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) is based on the closing document of the 2007 meeting of the Latin American bishops’ council in Aparecida, Brazil. Then-Archbishop Bergoglio led the editing committee for the document. A document intended for the Latin American bishops “became the patrimony of the whole church,” Archbishop Pierre said.

He said Pope Francis’ experience living in a “peripheral” country helped him elaborate a different kind of option for the poor than the one envisioned three decades earlier at the Medellin, Colombia, meeting of the Latin American bishops. “The reality is the people had been evangelized so deeply that the culture was filled with the Gospel,” he said.

Because the church does not play the same role in people’s lives it once did, the church today is challenged to help people encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their own lives. It must be missionary and not self-referential, the nuncio said.

In his introductory remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, said Archbishop Pierre is an intrepid adventurer who “enfleshes Pope Francis’ desire to go to the peripheries.”

Archbishop Pierre entered the papal diplomatic corps in 1977 and served in New Zealand, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil, Geneva, Haiti, Uganda and Mexico. Pope Francis named him apostolic nuncio to the United States April 12, 2016.

The event was co-sponsored by America Media and the American Bible Society and held at the New York Athletic Club.

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L.A. archbishop, faith leaders call for immigration reform, end to deportations


Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES — Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles called for mercy and an end to deportations as he led religious leaders in an interfaith prayer service Nov. 10 for peace, solidarity and unity at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Read more »

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Dialogue is expression of mercy, respect, love, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Dialogue is an essential component of mercy because it is the only way a husband and wife can understand each other, people of different religions can live in peace and the only way the Catholic Church can evaluate what is needed to promote the common good in the world, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis blesses a camper before a jubilee audience at the Vatican Oct. 22. The camper was donated to the pope for use by the Diocese of Rome in the service of the needy. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis blesses a camper before a jubilee audience at the Vatican Oct. 22. The camper was donated to the pope for use by the Diocese of Rome in the service of the needy. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

Good relations between husbands and wives, parents and children, employees and bosses, he said, require one “to listen, explain with meekness, don’t bark at the other, don’t yell, but have an open heart.”

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of dialogue and marked the feast of St. John Paul II Oct. 22 with a special Year of Mercy general audience in and around St. Peter’s Square. With about 100,000 people in attendance, according to Vatican police, the crowd overflowed the square. Making his rounds in the popemobile at the beginning of the audience, Pope Francis made sure to drive part way down the main boulevard outside the square to greet people.

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis said dialogue is an important aspect of mercy; it is what “allows people to know each other and understand the needs of the other.” In addition, “it is a sign of great respect,” because it involves listening to the other and making the effort to see the good in what the other is saying.

“Dialogue calls us to place ourselves before the other, seeing him or her as a gift of God,” the pope said.

“We don’t dialogue when we do not listen enough or when we interrupt the other to prove that we are right,” he said. “How many times when we are listening to someone, we stop them and say, ‘No. No. No, that’s not right,’ and we don’t let the person finish.”

Such an attitude, he said, is “aggression.”

The church, too, is called to dialogue, Pope Francis said. Listening is the only way to know what is in the other’s heart and what the other needs.

Dialogue is an expression of God’s love, which reaches out to each person, sowing seeds of goodness, he said. “Dialogue tears down walls of division and misunderstanding, creates bridges of communication and does not allow anyone to isolate him- or herself.”

Thousands of pilgrims from Poland attended the audience, which occurred on St. John Paul II’s feast day, the anniversary of the day in 1978 that he formally inaugurated his ministry as pope.

Saying St. John Paul tirelessly proclaimed “the Gospel of mercy,” Pope Francis offered special prayers that the late pope would intercede to help young people face the challenges in their lives, help the sick “embrace with hope the cross of illness” and fill with love the families newlyweds are just starting.

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Christians aren’t greater than God, must forgive as he does, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — God wants people to be merciful, which means forgiving others and giving freely with love, Pope Francis said.

“We don’t have the power to condemn our brother who makes a mistake, we are not above him. Rather we have a duty to return him to the dignity of a son of the father and to accompany him on his path of conversion,” the pope said Sept. 21 at his weekly general audience.

Pilgrims from Indonesia wave before Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly audience Sept. 21 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

Pilgrims from Indonesia wave before Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly audience Sept. 21 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

In his talk, the pope focused on a reading from the Gospel of Luke (6:36-38) in which Jesus tells the disciples to stop judging others and be merciful just as God is.

The motto for the Year of Mercy, “Merciful Like the Father,” comes from this biblical verse, the pope said.

But more than a pithy catchphrase, the motto is a lifelong commitment to give to others the love one has received, without merit, from God, he said. It is a call to reflect upon all that God does for humanity so as to be inspired “to be like him, full of love, compassion and mercy,” he said.

But what does it mean to be merciful, the pope asked his audience. Jesus said it means to forgive and to give, he said.

Mercy is shown by forgiving and not judging and condemning, the pope said.

“A Christian must forgive,” he said. “Why? Because he was forgiven! All of us here in the square have been forgiven, not one of us never needed God’s forgiveness in life.”

“If God has forgiven me, why shouldn’t I forgive others? Am I greater than God?” the pope said, underlining that “judging and condemning one’s brother who sins is wrong.”

“Not because one doesn’t want to recognize the sin, but because to condemn the sinner breaks the bond of fraternity with him and ignores the mercy of God, who does not want to give up on any of his children.”

By asking his disciples not to condemn, “Jesus does not mean to undermine the course of human justice,” Pope Francis said, rather he shows that suspending judgment is needed to hold together a Christian community and maintain fraternal ties.

The other essential element of mercy, he said, is that it is freely giving to others because it flows from having received such abundant gifts from God.

Also, by giving to others, God will return that measure once again, showing “it is we ourselves who decide how we will be judged” after death, the pope said.

For a Christian, he said, merciful love is the only path to follow.

“We all need to be a little more merciful, to not badmouth others, not judge, not rip people apart with criticism, envy, jealousy,” he said.

By giving and forgiving, he said, one’s heart will expand with love, while selfishness and hatred will turn the heart into a hard, tiny stone.

“Which do you want?” he asked.

When people in the audience shouted “no” to having “a heart of stone” and “yes” to a heart filled with love, the pope said, “then be merciful.”

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God’s gift of mercy must be shared with others, pope says



Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — God’s mercy is infectious and must be shared with others, Pope Francis said.

Mercy is “a journey that departs from the heart to arrive at the hands,” the pope said Aug. 10 at his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis greets the faithful as he arrives to lead his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 10. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis greets the faithful as he arrives to lead his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 10. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis focused on the Gospel story of Jesus raising from the dead the son of the widow of Nain, giving renewed hope not just to the woman and her son, but to all.

“The powerful word of Jesus can make us rise again and takes us, too, from death to life,” the pope said. “His word revives us, gives hope, refreshes weary hearts and opens us to a vision of the world and of life that goes beyond suffering and death.”

Pope Francis ended his main talk by insisting that “Jesus watches you, heals you with his mercy and says, ‘Arise,’ and your heart is new.”

“And what do I do now with this new heart healed by Jesus?” he asked. “I do the works of mercy with my hands and I try to help, to heal the many who are in need. Mercy is a journey that departs from the heart and arrives at the hands, at the works of mercy.”

Greeting Italian visitors at the end of the audience, the pope returned to his point about how the experience of mercy must lead Christians to concrete acts of mercy toward others.

Recently, he said, a bishop told him that in his cathedral, there is not just one Holy Door designated for the Year of Mercy, but two.

One Holy Door is an entrance, the doorway people pass through to ask for God’s forgiveness and receive it in the sacraments. The other door is an exit, “to go out and bring God’s mercy to others with the works of mercy. This bishop is intelligent, isn’t he?” the pope said.

“In our hearts we receive the mercy of Jesus, who gives us pardon because God forgives everything, everything,” the pope said. “He raises us up. He gives us new life and he also infects us with his compassion. From our hearts forgiven and healed, and with the compassion of Jesus, the journey toward our hands begins, that it, toward the works of mercy.”


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Look it up: Scripture calls us to practice mercy willingly


Catholic News Service

The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are transformational. While they encourage us to care for someone else who is in need, they also require from us a change of attitude, understanding and perspective.

It is not enough to simply provide our surplus food to someone who is hungry. We also are called to change the way we think about our neighbors and what we feel for them. Read more »

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Life is short; start forgiving, making amends, pope tells priests


Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Mercy recognizes that life is short and that so much good needs to be done that there is no time to waste in making amends, Pope Francis told priests.
“That is why it is so important to forgive completely” and let go of paralyzing self-pity so mercy can get “its hands dirty” and make reparation for the wrongs committed, he said in a retreat for clergy.
Mercy does not overlook the harm caused by sin, “rather it takes away evil’s power over the future. It takes away its power over life.” Read more »

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Pope: Living out one’s faith is useless without a repentant heart


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Without a repentant heart, Christians can risk living out their faith superficially and fail to live out God’s desire for “mercy, not sacrifice,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Instead, Jesus’ love for sinners shows that the church is not “a community of perfect people, but disciples on a path who follow the Lord because they recognize themselves as sinners and in need of his forgiveness,” the pope said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square April 13.

Jesus’ mission is “to search for each one of us, to heal our wounds and call us to follow him with love,” he said.

The pope reflected on the Gospel passage, which recounted Jesus calling Matthew to follow him despite the fact he was a tax collector and considered a sinner by the people.

Jesus, he said, did not rebuke him for his past but dines with him and “opens up a new future.”

“There is no saint without a past and there is not sinner without a future. This is beautiful; this is what Jesus does,” he said.

However, like the scribes and Pharisees, there is also the temptation for Christians to fall into pride and arrogance and believe themselves better than others. For Christ, no sinner is excluded because “God’s healing power knows no sickness that cannot be cured,” the pope said.

Jesus, he added, was not afraid of talking to sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, thus revealing the true meaning behind the prophet Hosea’s call for “mercy, not sacrifice.”

“Those Pharisees were very religious in practice, but were unable to share a table with tax collectors and sinners,” he said. “While being faithful guardians of the law, they had no knowledge of God’s heart.”

Pope Francis called on the faithful to “look with mercy” upon others while reminding them that “we are all disciples in need of experiencing and living the comforting words of Jesus.”

“We all need to be nourished by the mercy of God because our salvation comes from this source,” the pope said.


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‘The Joy of Love’ — Share truth of family with mercy, help those struggling, pope says in new document


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The same mercy and patience that are essential for building a strong family must be shown to those whose families are in trouble or have broken up, Pope Francis said in his highly anticipated postsynodal apostolic exhortation.

A family prays after arriving for Sunday Mass in 2011 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va. Pope Francis' postsynodal apostolic exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), was to be released April 8. The exhortation is the concluding document of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

A family prays after arriving for Sunday Mass in 2011 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va. Pope Francis’ postsynodal apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), was to be released April 8. The exhortation is the concluding document of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The document, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), on Love in the Family,” released April 8, contains no new rules or norms. However, it encourages careful review of everything related to family ministry and, particularly, much greater attention to the language and attitude used when explaining church teaching and ministering to those who do not fully live that teaching.

“No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love,” Pope Francis wrote. People grow in holiness, and the church must be there to give them a helping hand rather than turn them away because they have not attained some degree of perfection.

The exhortation was Pope Francis’ reflection on the discussion, debate and suggestions raised during the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops on the family. Like synod members did, the pope insisted that God’s plan for the family is that it be built on the lifelong union of one man and one woman open to having children.

Synod members, including priests, religious and laypeople serving as experts and observers, talked about everything from varied cultural forms of courtship to marriage preparation and from the impact of migration on families to care for elderly parents.

Pope Francis’ document touches on all the issues raised at the synods and gives practical advice on raising children, urges a revision of sex-education programs and decries the many ways the “disposable culture” has infiltrated family life and sexuality to the point that many people feel free to use and then walk away from others.

“Everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop. Then, goodbye,” he wrote.

Much of the document is tied to the theme of God’s mercy, including Pope Francis’ discussion of welcoming the vulnerable.

“Dedication and concern shown to migrants and to persons with special needs alike is a sign of the Spirit,” he wrote. Both are “a test of our commitment to show mercy in welcoming others and to help the vulnerable to be fully a part of our communities.”

The synod issues that garnered the most headlines revolved around the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, as well as Catholic attitudes toward homosexuality.

“In no way must the church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur,” Pope Francis said.

He repeated his and the synod’s insistence that the church cannot consider same-sex unions to be a marriage, but also insisted, “every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity.”

On the question of families experiencing difficulties, separation or even divorce and remarriage, Pope Francis said responses to the questionnaires sent around the world before the synod “showed that most people in difficult or critical situations do not seek pastoral assistance, since they do not find it sympathetic, realistic or concerned for individual cases.”

The responses, he wrote, call on the church “to try to approach marriage crises with greater sensitivity to their burden of hurt and anxiety.”

Particularly in ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, Pope Francis said, pastors must help each couple look at their actions and circumstances, recognize their share of responsibility for the breakup of their marriage, acknowledge church teaching that marriage is indissoluble and prayerfully discern what God is calling them to.

Pope Francis said it would be a “grave danger” to give people the impression that “any priest can quickly grant exceptions or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favors.”

At the same time, he insisted, “the way of the church is not to condemn anyone forever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.”

Divorced and civilly remarried couples, especially those with children, must be welcomed in Catholic parishes and supported in efforts to raise their children in the faith.

Generally, without an annulment of their sacramental marriage, such a couple would not be able to receive Communion or absolution of their sins unless they promised to live as “brother and sister.” But every situation is different, the pope said, which is why the church does not need new rules, but a new commitment on the part of pastors to provide spiritual guidance and assistance with discernment.

The diversity of situations — for example, that of a spouse who was abandoned versus being the one who left — makes it unwise to issue “a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases,” the pope wrote. Quoting St. John Paul II, he said, “’since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”

Pope Francis used the document’s footnotes to specify that the consequences include whether or not the couple might eventually be able to receive Communion: “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists,” he wrote. Those who are in a state of serious sin are not to receive Communion.

Another footnote commented on the church’s request that remarried couples who had not received an annulment and who want to receive the sacraments forego sexual relations. “In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living as brothers and sisters which the church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers,’” he wrote.

Pope Francis wrote that he understood those “who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.”

Turning to those who believe allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion waters down church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, the pope said, “we put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel.”

In many respects, Pope Francis wrote, church members themselves have presented and promoted such a dreary picture of married life that many people want nothing to do with it even though they dream of a love that will last a lifetime and be faithful.

“We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life,” he wrote. “We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden.

“We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations,” the pope wrote. Yet, “we have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”

The role of an individual’s conscience made frequent appearances in the document, not only regarding the situation of those who may determine their new union is best for their family, but also regarding decisions over how many children to have.

Pope Francis praised Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which insisted every sexual act in a marriage must be open to the possibility of pregnancy, and included a large section reiterating what has become known as St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

The saintly pope definitively opposed an old idea that considered “the erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the good of the family,” Pope Francis said. “Rather, it must be seen as gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses.”

Pope Francis called for church leaders to ensure more married couples are involved as leaders in designing and carrying out pastoral programs for families. Their witness is key, he said.

“Marital love is not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but by helping it to grow ever stronger under the impulse of grace,” he said. “A love that fails to grow is at risk. Growth can only occur if we respond to God’s grace through constant acts of love, acts of kindness that become ever more frequent, intense, generous, tender and cheerful.”


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Reconcile with God, resurrect hope in others, pope urges at Easter


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Easter is a feast of hope, a celebration of God’s mercy and a call to pray for and assist all who suffer, Pope Francis said before giving his solemn blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

Pope Francis uses incense to reverence an icon of the risen Jesus at the beginning of Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis uses incense to reverence an icon of the risen Jesus at the beginning of Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The risen Jesus “makes us sharers of his immortal life and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims of oppression and violence,” the pope said March 27 after celebrating Easter morning Mass.

Easter in Rome dawned bright and sunny; in St. Peter’s Square, the steps leading up to the basilica were turned into an abundant garden with thousands of tulips, daffodils and flowering bushes.

On Easter morning, the pope does not give a homily. Instead, with hands clasped in prayer and head bowed, he led the tens of thousands of people in the square in silent reflection.

After Mass, before giving his solemn blessing, Pope Francis said Easter should give people the courage to “blaze trails of reconciliation with God and with all our brothers and sisters.”

Speaking about Christ’s power over death and sin, the pope prayed that the Lord would touch places in the globe scarred by war, terrorism, poverty and environmental destruction.

“The risen Christ points out paths of hope to beloved Syria, a country torn by a lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law and the breakdown of civil concord,” the pope said. “To the power of the risen Lord we entrust the talks now in course.”

He prayed that the power of the Resurrection would “overcome hardened hearts and promote a fruitful encounter of peoples and cultures,”particularly in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and the Holy Land.

“May the Lord of life also accompany efforts to attain a definitive solution to the war in Ukraine, inspiring and sustaining initiatives of humanitarian aid, including the liberation of those who are detained,” he prayed.

On Easter and throughout the Holy Week liturgies that preceded it, Pope Francis showed special concern for the fate of refugees and migrants fleeing violence and poverty and for Christians facing persecution in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

At Rome’s Colosseum Good Friday, after presiding over the Stations of the Cross, the pope offered a long meditation on how Christ continues to be scorned, tortured and crucified in suffering people around the world.

“O Cross of Christ,” he said March 25, “today too we see you raised up in our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.”

“O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the faces of children, of women and people, worn out and fearful, who flee from war and violence and who often only find death and many Pilates who wash their hands,” he said.

Two days later, celebrating the Resurrection, Pope Francis said the Easter message “invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees, including many children, fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice. All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance.”

Celebrating the Easter vigil March 26, Pope Francis said Easter is a celebration of hope, one that must begin within the hearts of each Christian.

“Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish,” he said in his homily. “This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives.

“Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love,” the pope said.

“The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living,” Pope Francis said. “After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. This is so necessary today.”

During the Easter vigil, Pope Francis baptized eight women and four men, including Yong-joon Lee, the South Korean ambassador to Italy, who took the baptismal name, Stephen. The ambassador’s wife, taking the name Stella, was also baptized. The other catechumens came from Italy, Albania, Cameroon, India and China.

One by one, the catechumens approached the pope who asked them if they wished to receive baptism. After responding, “Yes, I do,” they lowered their heads as the pope, using a silver shell, poured water over their foreheads.

Confirming the 12 during the vigil, the pope asked the cardinals, bishops and priests present to join him in raising their hands and praying over the newly-baptized so that God would send forth the Holy Spirit upon them.

At the beginning of the vigil, after blessing the Easter fire, Pope Francis entered a darkened basilica, gently illuminated by the light of the Easter candle.

In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Luke, the pope noted how the disciples doubted the testimony of the women returning from the empty tomb.

Peter, he said, was the first of the men to rise and run to the tomb, choosing not to “succumb to the somber atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts.”

“This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope; he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it,” the pope said.

Like Peter and the women, he added, Christians cannot discover life by being “bereft of hope” and “imprisoned within ourselves” but, instead, must allow Christ to bring life and break open their tombs, sealed by “the stones of our rancor and the boulders of our past.”

While problems will always remain, he said, Jesus’ resurrection is a sure foundation of Christian hope and not “mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous.”

The Holy Spirit “does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, death and fear,” he said.

Christians are called to awaken the same hope in the hearts of others, Pope Francis said. Without such witness the church risks becoming “an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.”

Junno Arocho Esteves also contributed to this story.

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