Pope Francis leads call to spread faith as Christians gather in Jerusalem for Easter
Pope Francis has called on Catholics to bring the message of God “to the very ends of the Earth” during an Easter vigil mass in St Peter’s Basilica.
The mass wrapped up a series of Vatican ceremonies leading up to Easter Sunday – the holiest day in the Christian calendar, which celebrates the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Francis said the core of the Easter message was about returning to the basics of faith and asking: “Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?”
He said there was a need to recover “the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the Earth”.
The message reiterates his previous calls for a Roman Catholic Church that is closer to ordinary people, more international and less “Vatican-centric”.
Tens of thousands of people are expected at mass on Easter Sunday in St Peter’s Square where the Pope will deliver a blessing from the same balcony of the basilica where he first appeared on the night of his election last year.
The Vatican will then host a historic event on April 27, declaring popes John Paul II and John XXIII as saints in the the first double papal canonisation.
Hundreds of thousands are expected for the celebration, including many pilgrims from John Paul II’s homeland of Poland.
On Good Friday, Francis attended a traditional torch-lit ceremony at the Colosseum in Rome where he called for help to “abandoned people”.
Prayers read out during the ceremony touched on pressing social issues including drug addiction, unemployment, prison overcrowding and domestic abuse.
Francis also instructed the Vatican almoner to give out charity to homeless people around the Termini railway station, with each receiving a 50-euro ($74) note and an Easter greeting from the Pope.
Christians mark Holy Fire rite on eve of Easter
Meanwhile, thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City to celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony on the eve of Easter.
Believers hold that a divine fire from heaven ignites a flame in the church, built on the site where Christians say Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected.
The flame is then passed between worshippers, candle to candle.
The crowd roared as the Holy Fire was lit, in an ancient annual rite dating to the fourth century AD to symbolise the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.
The church filled with smoke from the flames, and scuffles also broke out between priests and pilgrims jostling to get a better view.
Worshippers from various Christian denominations then processed through the church as pilgrims filed outside to a clamour of church bells.
After the ceremony, the Holy Fire was passed between worshippers in a procession to nearby Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born.
The flame will also be flown out to Greece and other Orthodox countries.
The Church of the Sepulchre, one of Christianity’s holiest sites, is shared by six denominations – the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.