Orthodox Easter, Pope: May Christ bring peace ‘outraged by the barbarity of war’
The pope mentions countries devastated by conflicts, like Ukraine to Cameroon. He calls for a truce at a time when “weapons are increasingly taking the place of words”. During the Regina Coeli, he said he fears “perfect Christians” because the “adventure of faith” includes “lights and shadows”. In his homily for the Mass of Divine Mercy, Francis notes that Jesus did not say “words of defiance” because he “understands Thomas’s difficulty” and does not treat him “with harshness”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis extended his best Easter wishes to Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches that celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar.
Speaking at the Regina Coeli prayer from the Apostolic Palace study window, the pontiff expressed hope that the Risen Christ will fill people’s hearts with hope and grant them “peace, which has been wounded by the barbarity of war”.
Francis noted that, “Today marks two months” since the start of the Ukraine war; “instead of stopping, the war has worsened. It is sad that in these days, which are the holiest and most solemn for all Christians, the deadly roar of weapons is heard rather than the sound of bells announcing the Resurrection; and it is sad that weapons are increasingly taking the place of words.”
Urging the faithful to pray, he renewed his “appeal for an Easter truce” to reduce “the suffering of the exhausted population” and reach out to the Risen Jesus who says “Peace be with you!” in his view, “peace is possible” if “Political leaders [. . .] listen to the voice of the people, who want peace, not an escalation of the conflict.”
In his renewed call for peace, Francis sent his greeting to the people taking part in today’s special march for peace in Perugia and Assisi, as well as “those who have joined in with similar events” like the bishops of Cameroon who are undertaking a Marian pilgrimage in their “beloved” country “ravaged by violence [. . .] for more than five years.”
At the start of the Regina Caeli, Francis cited the main figures in today's Gospel, Jesus and Thomas, “looking first at the disciple, and then at the Master.” The apostle, the pope explained, "represents all of us who were not present in the Upper Room when the Lord appeared”.
Like Thomas, “We too struggle” to believe in the Resurrection,” but like him again, “we do not need to be ashamed of this. [. . .] By telling us the story of Thomas, in fact, the Gospel tells us that the Lord is not looking for perfect Christians” since the “adventure of faith [. . .] consists of lights and shadows.” Indeed, faith “knows times of comfort, zeal and enthusiasm, but also of weariness, confusion, doubt and darkness.”
Like Thomas, we too must not fear a crisis of faith for it helps us recognise that we need to touch the wounds of Christ and experience his love. For Francis, “It is better to have an imperfect but humble faith that always returns to Jesus, than a strong but presumptuous faith that makes us proud and arrogant.”
Given Thomas’s uncertainties, like everyone else’s, “Jesus does not give up, he does not get tired of us,” and “when the doors are closed, he comes back [. . .]. He always comes back, [. . .] not with powerful signs that would make us feel small and inadequate, but with his wounds, signs of his love that” show “our frailties.”
He comes back because “he is patient and merciful” and opens “the upper rooms of our fears and unbelief”. Hence, at difficult moments or in times of crisis, we should not turn inwards but seek instead to return to “those wounds that have healed us.”
Earlier in the day, the pontiff led the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday in St Peter's Basilica, after two years of restricted celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pope's persistent knee problem, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation, led the service.
John Paul II instituted the feast in 2001 on the occasion of the canonisation of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Polish mystic who had visions of Jesus in 1931, which coincided with Divine Mercy Sunday, when Christ's salvific plan comes to fulfilment and allows us to understand the mystery of the Redemption. This falls on the same day the Orthodox celebrate Easter.
In his homily, centred on peace Amid deep concern over war, in particular that unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the pontiff stressed the greeting “Peace be with you!” which Jesus used when he encountered “human weakness and error”, enabling us to “discover three aspects of God’s mercy towards us,” namely joy, forgiveness, and comfort in every difficulty.
“First, God’s mercy gives joy, a special joy, the joy of knowing that we have been freely forgiven.” The disciples “had made courageous choices” and “followed the Master with enthusiasm,” but were overcome by fear and “left Jesus alone at his most tragic hour.” Yet “they were distracted from themselves and their failures and attracted by his gaze, that brimmed not with severity but with mercy.”
Francis noted that “We ourselves know what those disciples were feeling on that Easter evening, because of our own lapses, sins and failures” which “is precisely when the Lord does everything. He gives us his peace, through a good Confession”.
“Peace be with you! The Lord says these words a second time and adds, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you. [. . .] Not only do the disciples receive mercy; they become dispensers of the mercy that they themselves received [. . .] not on account of their merits, but as a pure gift of grace, based however on their experience of having been themselves forgiven.”
“Peace be with you!” Jesus said three times “when, eight days later, he appears to the disciples and strengthens the flagging faith of Thomas” who “wants to see and touch. The Lord is not offended by Thomas’s disbelief, but comes to his aid: ‘Put your finger here and see my hands.’ These are not words of defiance but of mercy. Jesus understands Thomas’s difficulty. He does not treat Thomas with harshness”.
“For the story of Thomas is in fact the story of every believer. There are times of difficulty when life seems to belie faith, moments of crisis when we need to touch and see. Like Thomas, it is precisely in those moments that we rediscover the heart of Christ, the Lord’s mercy.”
“If we care for the wounds of our neighbour and pour upon them the balm of mercy, we find being reborn within us a hope that comforts us in our weariness. Let us ask ourselves whether of late we have helped someone suffering in mind or body; whether we have brought peace to someone suffering physically or spiritually; whether we have spent some time simply listening, being present, or bringing comfort to another person. For whenever we do these things, we encounter Jesus. From the eyes of all those who are weighed down by the trials of life, he looks out at us with mercy and says once more to us: Peace be with you!”