VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Saturday invoked “gestures of peace in these days marked by the horror of war” in an Easter Vigil homily in St. Peter’s Basilica in the presence of the city’s mayor Ukrainian occupied Melitopol and three Ukrainian lawmakers.
The pontiff noted that while “many writers have spoken of the embellishment of starry nights, the nights of war, however, are torn by streams of light that herald death.”
Francis did not directly refer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but he called for an Easter truce in order to reach a negotiated peace. That call came in vain on Saturday, as Russia resumed its missile and rocket attacks on kyiv, western Ukraine and beyond, a stark reminder that the whole country remains under threat.
At the end of his homily, the pontiff directly addressed the mayor of Melitopol Ivan Fedorov and the Ukrainian legislators Maria Mezentseva, Olena Khomenko and Rusem Umerov, who all sat together in the front row.
“In this darkness of war, in cruelty, we all pray for you and with you this night. We pray for all suffering. We can only give you our company, our prayer,” Francis said, adding “the greatest thing you can receive: Christ is risen,” speaking the last three words in Ukrainian.
Fedorov was abducted and held for five days by Russian troops after occupying Melitopol, a strategic southern city. Fedorov and lawmakers traveled to European capitals to demand more help for their war-torn country and met Vatican No. 2 Secretary of State Pietro Parolin earlier on Saturday.
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For Christians, Easter is a day of joy and hope, as they mark their belief that Jesus triumphed over death through the resurrection after his crucifixion.
“For with Jesus, the risen Lord, no night shall last forever; and even in the darkest night the morning star continues to shine,” the pope said in his homily.
Francis, who suffered from an inflamed ligament, did not take part in a candlelit procession down the aisle of the dark basilica at the start of mass. He instead sat in front of the altar on a wooden chair upholstered in white robes. . Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said mass instead.
In front of the altar steps was a row of cardinals, wearing ivory robes and face masks for the first mass of the Easter Vigil with the faithful present since the pandemic.
Among those present in the basilica were seven adults who were baptized by the pope during mass. The Vatican said these new devotees come from Italy, the United States, Albania and Cuba. From a silver shell-shaped dish, Francis poured holy water over the bowed heads of the seven, after they approached him one by one and listened as he called out their names.
On Sunday, Francis celebrates Easter Mass in the late morning in St. Peter’s Square and gives a speech from the balcony of the basilica, known by its Latin name “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world), in which it recounts the trials and conflicts facing the world.