Resurrection sends message of hope to people

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Holy Saturday

The bells of St. Peter's tolled across Rome as midnight approached to herald in Easter, when the faithful celebrate the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion on Good Friday.

Pope Benedict XVI ushered in Easter services late Saturday with a dramatic, candlelit vigil in St. Peter's Basilica, saying Christ's resurrection was "the most crucial leap" in the history of mankind..

At the start of the service, the Pope carved the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet -- alpha and omega -- and the numbers of the year 2006 on a large candle. Then Benedict entered the darkened basilica in silence, holding in front of him a single white candle, which had been lit at the blessed Paschal fire. Its flame was then shared with others until slowly the whole basilica began to twinkle with candles held by the thousands of faithful gathered for the chant-filled service.

During his homily, a tired-looking Benedict, wearing gold and white vestments, said some people wrongly believe that the miracle of Jesus' resurrection did not concern ordinary men. The resurrection of Christ could not be considered a thing of the past because it was still sending a message of hope to people.

"We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak," he said before thousands of people in the basilica.

"If we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a program opposed to corruption and the desire for power and possession," he said.

"If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest 'mutation,' absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history," he said in response.

During the long service, due to lasting nearly three hours, the Pope conferred the sacrament of baptism of seven people from Japan, Albania, Peru, Colombia and Cameroon.

Easter Sunday

From the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the pontiff reviewed conflicts around the globe to rousing cheers and applause.

"In Iraq, may peace finally prevail over the tragic violence that continues mercilessly to claim victims," Benedict said, pausing as the crowd applauded.

"I also pray sincerely that those caught up in the conflict in the Holy Land may find peace, and I invite all to patient and persevering dialogue, so as to remove both ancient and new obstacles," the pope said.

"May the international community, which reaffirms Israel's just right to exist in peace, assist the Palestinian people to overcome the precarious conditions in which they live and to build their future, moving toward the constitution of a state which is truly their own," he added.

He also prayed for resolutions to global nuclear crises, though he did not name specific countries. Disputes over the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea have embroiled many countries and are at an impasse.

"Concerning the international crises linked to nuclear power, may an honourable solution be found for all parties, through serious and honest negotiations," Benedict said.

Benedict also called on world leaders to promote racial, cultural and religious harmony "to remove the threat of terrorism."

The pope touched on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region and conflicts in other parts of Africa. He said that in Latin America, millions of people needed better living conditions and democratic institutions.

When the faithful read out prayers during the Mass, a woman speaking in French prayed for the pope. She offered a birthday wish and prayed that Benedict receive peace and the comfort of "serene" days.

Benedict wished the faithful a joyous holiday in 62 languages.