“Urbi et orbi.”

Pope Francis gave the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" blessing on Easter Sunday, remembering the victims of terrorist attacks around the world. Thousands of pilgrims followed his Easter message.

It is precisely on Easter that one feels "closeness to the victims of terrorism, that blind and cruel form of violence that does not cease to shed innocent blood in many parts of the earth," the 79-year-old told thousands of pilgrims from around the world in his Easter message. From the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, he said the traditional blessing "Urbi et Orbi", to the city and the world.

The blessing was followed not only by the people in Rome but also by millions of believers on TV. It is the highlight of the traditional Easter celebrations in Rome. Before the blessing, Francis celebrated Easter Mass in the festively decorated St. Peter's Square. This year the celebrations took place under enormously tightened security precautions, also in view of the terrorist attacks in Brussels.

Pope recalls refugees

In his Easter message, Francis also recalled the many people "who are on the way to a better future, the ever-growing multitude of migrants and refugees (…) fleeing war, hunger, poverty and social injustice." Often these people "encounter death on their paths or experience anyway the rejection of those who could offer welcome and help".

Francis cited a profiteering exploitation of nature and climate change as important reasons for the misery. This, he said, leads to droughts, floods and food crises.

Washing of feet on Holy Thursday

The refugee crisis had already dominated the Pope's program on Holy Thursday. The fact that the pope moved the traditional ritual of foot washing to an asylum shelter near Rome this time received strong international media attention. The man in white kissing the feet of a black African migrant might remain the most impressive image of these Easter days.

It was almost lost that this year, for the first time, the pope also officially performed the ceremony on women. He did so in previous years, but it was not until this January that he had a provision to the contrary explicitly deleted.

Equality of the sexes and equality of all people, regardless of their faith, that was to become the message of that evening. The pope also washed the feet of three Muslims and one Hindu. "We are all gathered here: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, evangelical Christians. We are all brothers and sisters, children of the same God," the pope said in his free-verse homily. "We have different cultures and religions. But we are brothers and we want to live together in peace."

Pope condemns violence

On the evening of Good Friday, during the traditional Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum, Francis made very clear references to radical Islam, without naming it directly. He condemned the worldview of fundamentalists who clung to the letter – one might add: their Holy Scripture – instead of teaching mercy; of people who handed others over to stoning without seeing their own faults, cut throats and chopped off heads. In these people, he said, the cross of Christ showed itself as a symbol of cruelty and inhumanity. Such terrorists, "the followers of some religions," desecrated the name of God.

Even during this Way of the Cross, which was well attended despite extraordinarily strict security measures, Francis did not forget the plight of refugees and migrants. The Mediterranean and the Aegean have become an "insatiable graveyard," he warned – "an image of our dulled and numbed conscience.". Less noticed in the media was the fact that the Pope also sharply opposed secular "pagan" currents that wanted to banish the cross from the public sphere.

Message at the Easter Vigil

The Pope dedicated the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica to the central theme of the resurrection, the highlight of the church year for Christians. The Holy Father had called on the Church to once again focus more on Jesus' message of eternal life and to proclaim it credibly. "Otherwise, we would be an international institution with a large number of followers and good rules, but incapable of giving the hope for which the world thirsts," he said in his homily at St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday evening. The Easter message of the resurrection embodies this hope, he said. For Christians, it is more than mere optimism, but the very strength of life.

"The Lord deliver us from this terrible trap of being Christians without hope, living as if the Lord had not risen and the center of life were our problems," Francis said. These problems will always exist. They are like the stone in front of the tomb of Jesus. But those who give in to their sadness remain trapped within themselves and cannot find life.

"To open oneself to hope"

Francis continued, "Instead, let us open our closed tombs to the Lord, so that Jesus may enter and give life; let us bring to him the stones of strife and the rubble of the past, the heavy boulders of weaknesses and failures. He wants to come and take us by the hand to pull us out of fear."

God does not make everything in the world seem beautiful and does not eliminate evil with a magic wand, Francis said. True vitality, however, does not consist in the absence of problems, but in the certainty of always being loved and forgiven by Jesus Christ, the victor over sin, death and fear.

"Christ is risen! Let us open ourselves to hope and set out on the road," said the Pope at the end of his homily. He said that the celebration of the Resurrection is a shining light and leads people to an Easter "that has no end.".

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