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At a COVID-Limited Easter Vigil, Pope Insists Jesus ‘Is Not Outdated’

Pope Francis lights the paschal candle at the start of the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 3, 2021. (Photo: CNS/Vatican Media)

By Inés San Martín

ROME (Crux) – Pope Francis said faith is not an “album of past memories” and that “Jesus is not outdated,” nor is God something that can be filed away as a childhood memory because he’s present at “every moment of our lives” on Saturday, April 3.

During an Easter Vigil celebration in a mostly empty St. Peter’s Basilica due to COVID-19 restrictions, Pope Francis reflected on the passage of the day’s Gospel that speaks of the women who went to Jesus’s tomb to anoint his body, but found it empty because he had risen from the dead.

Going to Galilee, the pontiff said, “means setting out on new paths. It means walking away from the tomb. The women were looking for Jesus in the tomb; they went to recall what they had experienced with him, which was now gone forever. They went to indulge in their grief.”

“There is a kind of faith that can become the memory of something once beautiful, now simply to be recalled,” Pope Francis said.

Yet Jesus is not someone from the past, nor an old friend from youth, the pope said, and it’s wrong to interpret faith as something made up of habits and past things — lovely childhood memories, Pope Francis said, but no longer a faith that moves or challenges me.

Going to Galilee, Pope Francis told the close to 200 people in the basilica, plus thousands joining live via livestream, means realizing that faith, if it’s to be alive, is to be on the road, renewing the amazement of the first encounter. It also means continuing to trust, embracing the humility of those who let themselves be surprised by God’s ways.

In an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Vatican upheld Italy’s restrictions, including a cap on Mass attendance. In addition, the baptismal rite during the Easter Saturday Vigil was suspended, as was the case last year.

However, many traditional elements remained, including complete darkness as Francis began processing into the basilica holding a candle. As the candle proceeded through St. Peter’s, those present gradually lit their own, provided for by the Vatican, from the one carried by the pontiff. As this symbolic “Light of Christ” spread, the darkness decreased.

During his homily, Pope Francis shared what he described as the three messages of Easter: it’s always possible to begin anew, because there is a new life that God can awaken “in spite of all our failures;” faith is not an album of past memories and Jesus is not outdated; and Christ, risen from the deaths, loves humanity with no limits.

“It’s always possible to begin anew, because there is a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures,” Pope Francis said. “From the rubble of our hearts, God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history.

In these dark months of the pandemic, the Holy Father issued an invitation to “listen to the Risen Lord as he invites us to begin anew and never lose hope.”

Galilee, Pope Francis said, was an outpost, and the people living there were those farthest away from the ritual purity of Jerusalem in Jesus’ times. Yet he began his mission there, bringing his message to those struggling with life everyday, especially those who were excluded, vulnerable and poor.

“There he brought the face and presence of God, who tirelessly seeks out those who are discouraged or lost, who goes to the very peripheries of existence, since in his eyes no one is least, no one is excluded,” he said. “The Risen Lord is asking his disciples to go there even now, to the settings of daily life, the streets we travel every day, the corners of our cities.”

“In Galilee we learn that we can find the Risen One in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the enthusiasm of those who dream and the resignation of those who are discouraged, in the smiles of those who rejoice and the tears of those who suffer, and above all in the poor and those on the fringes,” Pope Francis said. “We will be amazed by how the greatness of God is revealed in littleness, how his beauty shines forth in the poor and simple.”

Having made himself present in the heart of the world, Jesus invites humanity to overcome barriers, banish prejudices and draw near to those who are near to rediscover the grace of everyday life.

“With him, life will change,” the pontiff said. “For beyond all defeats, evil and violence, beyond all suffering and death, the Risen One lives and guides history.”

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