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Pope Francis at Easter Vigil: ‘The Risen Lord loves us without limits’

April 3, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- At the Vatican’s Easter Vigil Mass, Pope Francis said that Jesus’ love is without limits and always provides the grace to begin anew.

The pope said in his homily on April 3 that “it is always possible to begin anew because there is always a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures.”

He continued: “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. He never ceases to go ahead of us: in the cross of suffering, desolation and death, and in the glory of a life that rises again, a history that changes, a hope that is reborn.”

“Jesus, the Risen Lord, loves us without limits and is there at every moment of our lives,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Easter Vigil, which takes place on Holy Saturday night, “is the greatest and most noble of all solemnities and it is to be unique in every single Church,” according to the Roman Missal.

Pope Francis offered the Vigil Mass at the basilica’s Altar of the Chair with about 200 people present.

St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, is normally packed for the Easter Vigil. This year’s Easter Triduum liturgies were once again scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The preparation of the Paschal candle was omitted and no baptisms took place at the vigil, only a renewal of baptismal promises.

The liturgy began in darkness with the blessing of the new fire. The pope and concelebrating cardinals then processed through the dark church carrying lit candles to signify the light of Christ coming to dispel the darkness.

“If on this night you are experiencing an hour of darkness, a day that has not yet dawned, a light dimmed, or a dream shattered, go open your heart with amazement to the message of Easter: ‘Do not be afraid, he has risen! He awaits you in Galilee,’” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“Your expectations will not remain unfulfilled, your tears will be dried, your fears will be replaced by hope. For the Lord always goes ahead of you, he always walks before you. And, with him, life always begins anew.”

During the liturgy, a cantor sang the Exsultet Easter Proclamation, which tells the story of salvation from the creation, the testing and fall of Adam, the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and culminates in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and leads us to salvation.

The basilica was lit up gradually until it was fully illuminated at the Gloria, when the bells of St. Peter’s tolled.

In his homily, the pope asked people to reflect on the angel’s message to Mary Magdalene and the others who went to anoint Jesus’ body, but found an empty tomb, as described in the Gospel of Mark:

“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter,  ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”

Pope Francis said: “Let us go to Galilee, where the Risen Lord has gone ahead of us. Yet what  does it mean ‘to go to Galilee?’”

The pope then explained that “going to Galilee” can mean setting out on new paths, beginning anew, and going out to the peripheries.

“Galilee was an outpost: the people living in that diverse and disparate region were those farthest from the ritual purity of Jerusalem. Yet that is where Jesus began his mission. There he brought his message to those struggling to live from day to day … the excluded, the vulnerable and the poor,” he said.

“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.”

Pope Francis said that he thinks many people today view the Catholic faith as a thing of the past or “lovely childhood memories” that no longer influence their daily lives.

“God cannot be filed away among our childhood memories, but is alive and filled with surprises. Risen from the dead, Jesus never ceases to amaze us,” he said.

Pope Francis continued: “Jesus is not outdated. He is alive here and now. He walks beside you each day, in every situation you are experiencing, in every trial you have to endure, in your deepest hopes and dreams. … Even if you feel that all is lost, please, let yourself be open to amazement at the newness Jesus brings: He will surely surprise you.”



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Many joining the Church this year have learned of the faith virtually

April 3, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Apr 3, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Despite difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, parishes are welcoming groups of catechumens and candidates into the Catholic Church this Easter who have had to learn about the faith largely through virtual meetings. 

One such parish is St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco, which is welcoming a group of catechumens and candidates into the Church who had never convened in person until last month.

Dr. Mary Romo, a professor at the University of San Francisco and a catechist for the parish, told CNA that after convening their RCIA group online in September, she and a deacon have taught all the classes via Zoom.

“Hopefully we got the material across, but people missed the sense of community,” Romo said.

“The first time they actually saw each other [in person] was at the Rite of Election, the first Sunday of Lent.”

San Francisco has had some of the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions in place, including on places of worship, throughout the pandemic— a fact often decried by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

For much of the pandemic, indoor religious services were not allowed in San Francisco; under current restrictions, indoor religious services are allowed at 50% maximum occupancy.

Romo said their parish church has remained closed throughout most of the pandemic, but the RCIA group is looking forward to being together in person for the Easter Vigil.

St. Ignatius, like most parishes, is still livestreaming their Masses. Don Crean, director of sacramental preparation for the parish, said they have been trying to encourage viewers to be aware of the RCIA group.

One of the ways they have done that throughout the pandemic, Crean said, is to invite people from the RCIA group, two or three at a time, to come forward at the livestreamed Masses for a blessing so the viewers get a sense of who the catechumens and candidates are.

Generally their group of catechumens and candidates includes people from all walks of life, Romo said, but this year one demographic which generally accounts for a handful of converts is notably absent from the group— students from the nearby university.

She said in typical years, students from the University of San Francisco tend to “bring a life” to the RCIA sessions with their enthusiasm and inquisitive nature. But with the university still largely closed for in-person learning, the opportunities to attract students to RCIA at the parish dried up.

Romo said she honestly does not know how well the months of catechesis will “stick,” since she found it difficult to connect with the group via Zoom.

She and her co-catechist even recently conducted a retreat over Zoom, which included a guided meditation on Holy Week. She said it remains hard to “take the pulse” of the class when the interaction is mediated through a screen.

“Are they in profound silence, or are they just texting? We don’t know,” she laughed.

But she said the joy that the group showed when they met for the first time in person in February was a promising sign, and that seeing “the Church in action” as it continues to reopen will doubtless be helpful for the new Catholics.

Deacon John Rangel, RCIA coordinator at St. Joseph Catholic Church in the Diocese of San Angelo, told CNA that they usually start their RCIA program in early August, but this year delayed their start until mid-September.

Since then, their RCIA program has been a combination of in-person and virtual, with Deacon Rangel leading an in-person group for those who feel comfortable, and others joining via Zoom.

He said they started out with 27 in their English-language RCIA program, and five in the Spanish RCIA.

Out of those 32 participants who started the program, 17 are set to join the Church at the Easter Vigil. That number is more than a typical year; eight to 12 is a typical number, Rangel said.

The group has been able to get together in person recently with masks and social distancing. Deacon Rangel said they recently held an in-person retreat with precautions at a local retreat center.

Among the catechumens are a mother and daughter who are joining the Church together, he said.

“They came not knowing much, not knowing what to expect, but throughout this process…they were hungry for something,” Rangel commented.

“God was calling them to be a part of something beyond themselves. They are probably the most vibrant out of the whole vibrant class.”

Normally, he said, RCIA meets once a week, with a potluck before each meeting. Although the lack of fellowship meals this year has been a big loss for the group, Deacon Rangel said the group has found ways to support each other in their journey to become Catholic.

He said in many ways, the experience of leading RCIA during a pandemic has strengthened St. Joseph’s program, and taught them that they are not limited to the “old way” of conducting RCIA only in person.

“The more we discovered what we could do, the more ‘normal’ it became. The people found their niche, where they fit in with everyone else. They interacted with one another” and supported each other to build a community, he said.

“And that’s the miracle part. God himself is greater than COVID. When he calls his people, he makes a way for them to become a community, one people.”

Deacon Rangel’s parish is far from the only parish in the U.S. which has seen its RCIA numbers increase this year from 2020.

St. Mary and St. Michael parish in Stillwater, Minn., part of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis, reported that this year they have 25 people expected to become Catholic at the Easter Vigil, a fivefold increase from the number that joined in 2020.