VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis broke with tradition to deliver an Easter homily Sunday that called on people everywhere to cling to faith despite suffering from the violence and intolerance sweeping the world.
The pope usually conducts an Urbu et Orbi blessing — Latin for “To the City and the World” — just after the Easter Mass. But Francis addressed a concern likely on the minds of many Catholics on this religious holiday as they witness what seems like daily images of war, terrorism and famine in every corner of the globe: Why is tragedy so common if Jesus rose from the dead to forgive the sins of the world, the central belief behind Easter?
“The Church never ceases to say, faced with our defeaters, our closed and fearful herds, 'Stop, the Lord is risen,’” Francis said in the homily, referring to accidents, human trafficking, disease, revenge and hatred. “But if the Lord is risen, how come these things happen?”
Easter, he said, is “a sign in the midst of so many calamities, a sense of looking beyond, of saying don’t look to a wall, there is a horizon, there is a life, there is joy.”
Francis also used his Easter message to lament a bombing in Syria on Saturday that tore through a bus depot in Aleppo as evacuees were awaiting transfer, killing at least 100. “Yesterday saw the latest vile attack on fleeing refugees,” the pope said. Francis prayed that God would help those working to aid civilians in Syria who were caught in "a war that continues to sow horror and death.”
He also prayed for peace in the Holy Land, Iraq and Yemen.
St. Peter’s Square was packed despite a brief rainstorm and what Vatican officials said was the heaviest security checks ever for a public event at Vatican City, a nod to increased threats against the 80-year-old pontiff.
Flags from dozens of nations flew, and some in the crowd held signs calling on Francis to pray for victims of violence in Syria and in Africa.
When the Mass ended, Francis toured the plaza in a new, electric-powered “pope mobile” that made it easy for the pontiff to give impromptu blessings. At one point, he stopped to hold a small child. At another, he performed the sign of the cross before a group holding flags from his native country of Argentina.
“Francis is such a holy man, a living saint,” said Karin Sullivan, a 50-year-old teacher working at a Catholic school in Newark, N.J., visiting the Vatican on her school’s spring break. “His goodness is an antidote for all the terrible things that happen in the world. I personally, get strength from the goodness of this pope.”
Antonella Bianchi, 33, a Roman shop worker, agreed: “Francis does not have to speak out about something to show his displeasure,” she said. “He leads by example.”
Long lines at security checkpoints didn't faze the crowd.
“It would be ridiculous to get angry about spending an extra 30 minutes in line talking to people if that is what it takes to keep the pope safe during this violent period in history,” Anthony Rendon, 61, an accountant from Atlanta, said while waiting in line about two hours before the Mass started.
Contributing: The Associated Press