VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis returned to public view on Saturday, presiding over Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, a day after unseasonably chilly weather in Rome convinced the recently ailing pontiff to skip Good Friday's nighttime procession at the Colosseum.
The evening basilica service began in darkness. Then the basilica's cavernous interior was suddenly bathed in light, reflecting the Christian beliefs that Jesus rose from his death by crucifixion and that goodness can triumph over evil.
The 86-year-old pope is recuperating from bronchitis, which saw him hospitalized on March 29 for three days. On Sunday, tens of thousands of faithful are expected to join the pope in St. Peter’s Square for Easter Mass at the end of Holy Week.
In his homily, Francis sought to spur Catholics to be renewed by Easter.
“At times, we may simply feel weary about our daily routine, tired of taking risks in a cold, hard world where only the clever and the strong seem to get ahead,'' Francis said. ”At other times, we may feel helpless and discouraged before the power of evil."
He cited other sources of discouragement: "the attitudes of calculation and indifference that seem to prevail in society, the cancer of corruption, the spread of injustice, the icy winds of war."
But Easter "motivates us to move forward, to leave behind our sense of defeat, to roll away the stone of the tombs in which we often imprison our hope,'' Francis said.
"The power of Easter, brothers and sisters, summons you to roll away every stone of disappointment and mistrust,'' the pope said.
His stamina appeared to hold during the vigil, which lasts more than two hours, although Francis at times coughed or cleared his throat.
At the start of the Easter vigil, Francis, who arrived in a wheelchair he uses to cope with knee pain, incised in the wax of a tall candle a cross, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet — alpha and omega — and the numerals of this year. Then the lit candle was carried by a cleric up the basilica's center aisle, past darkened pews filled with some 8,000 faithful. Dozens of cardinals and other prelates followed, each carrying a smaller, lit candle.
"The Church calls upon her sons and daughters, scattered throughout the world, to come together to watch and pray,'' Francis said, beginning the service. Later, the basilica bells tolled, resounding in the night.
The basilica Mass during the vigil of Christianity's most important day has become an occasion for pontiffs to baptize several adults from around the world. Selected to be baptized at this year's vigil were eight believers, from Albania, the United States, Nigeria, Italy and Venezuela, the Vatican said.
One by one, they approached the pope and told him that they wanted to be baptized. Then they leaned over a basin so Francis could pour water over their heads as part of the sacrament's ritual, formally welcoming them into the Catholic Church.