Pope, at Easter Vigil, urges Christians “to return to our first love”

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Francis baptized 10 people from six countries at the Easter vigil, and urged Christians to rediscover the source of their faith by “returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people”

Celebrating the Easter vigil in a crowded St Peter’s Basilica for the second time as pope, Francis urged Christians to rediscover the source of their faith by “returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.”

In the heart of a magnificent liturgy of darkness and light, music, singing – led by the Sistine choir, reading and prayers, during which he baptized 10 people from 6 countries, Pope Francis centered his homily on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Speaking in a soft voice to the ten thousand pilgrims from many lands and to ambassadors, cardinals, bishops, priests, religious men and women, and lay people gathered in the basilica for what is the major celebration of the Christian liturgical year that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Pope Francis spoke about the resurrection.

He recalled that after Jesus died “the disciples had scattered, their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died.” But then, he said, the incredible happened. Jesus rose from the dead and met the women who visited his empty tomb, and after telling them “not to be afraid”, he asked them to tell his disciples “to go to Galilee” and “they will see me there.” That news of Jesus’ resurrection came to the disciples “like a ray of light in the darkness”.

The first Jesuit pope in the history of the Church went on to explain the real significance of this return to Galilee for the disciples: “Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began!” To return to Galilee “means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory. To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love”.

For each of us too, Pope Francis said, “there is a ‘Galilee’ at the origin of our journey with Jesus”. “To go to Galilee means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience”.

He explained that “to return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.”

Pope Francis recalled that “in the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential ‘Galilee’: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission.” In this sense, he said – in what was clearly an autobiographical reference to his own calling to the priesthood as a 17-year old boy, “returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.”

Looking at those gathered in the basilica, who were listening in great silence, Francis said, “Tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.”

He concluded by telling them and the millions worldwide that followed the ceremony on TV or Radio, that “the Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.”

After a moment of silence when he finished speaking, Francis blessed the baptismal water and then baptized and confirmed 8 men and 2 women, from 6 countries. The youngest was a 7 year old Italian, who was baptized with his 10 year old brother, the oldest a 58 year old Vietnamese man. Five were Italian; the others came from Belarus, Senegal, Lebanon and Francis. They all received Communion for the first time.

The magnificent liturgy began at 8.30 p.m. (Rome time) when the Pope lit the Easter fire and the Easter candle in the atrium of the basilica. The candle, representing the Risen Jesus, was then carried by a deacon in procession into the basilica shrouded in darkness, bringing light- “The light of Christ”- to the whole assembly. Worshippers lit their candles from the Easter candle and soon, in one of those great symbolic moments in the liturgy, the whole basilica was aglow with light – the light of the Resurrection.

This was followed by the singing of the Exultet- the official announcement of the resurrection of Jesus. This was followed by the liturgy of readings from the Old and New Testament, interspersed with music and hymns. It culminated with the singing of the Gloria as the bells rang out with joy and the organ played with gusto for Jesus’s resurrection. Then, after reading the Gospel account of that event that changed history, Pope Francis delivered his homily.

At the end of Mass, Pope Francis wished all present the joy and happiness of the Risen Jesus this Easter day, saying with a smile, “Buona Pasqua!” (Happy Easter!). The people responded with thunderous applause.

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