Amid the tightest security ever for an outdoor Mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis on Easter Sunday lashed out at the “blind and brutal” terrorism afflicting Europe, Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
Five days after Islamic State attacks in Brussels killed 31 people, extraordinary security controls left some faithful waiting in line for hours and forced some to watch the Mass from up to three-quarters of a mile away from St. Peter’s Square. Even so, the ceremony drew as many as 200,000 on a sunny and crisp Easter morning, according to media reports.
Speaking from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis lamented the difficulties of political and economic refugees looking to settle in Europe, and he discussed the religious significance of the Jesus resurrection symbolized by Easter, something he called a “message of life” for the world.
“This day invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees, including many children, fleeing war, hunger, poverty and social injustice,” the pontiff said.
Terrorism was a dominant theme Sunday, from the scores of police and military personnel checking bags and scanning crowds to the pope’s message of rebirth, which he said he hoped would “draw us closer to the victims of terrorism, a blind and brutal form of violence.”
The Vatican and Rome have attracted repeated threats from extremist groups in recent years, something Francis has tried to confront in part by reaching out to other faiths. On Good Friday, for example, he washed the feet of Christian, Muslim and Hindu migrants. Francis, at the start of the fourth year of his papacy, has made repeated outreach to other faiths.
“One of the pope’s main messages boils down to the belief that we are all brothers,” Franca Giansoldati, a Vatican expert with Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper, said in an interview. “Francis’ political messages are always tied to the pastoral role he takes. He speaks as a pastor, not as a pope or a head of state.”
After the Mass, Francis pushed aside security worries to tour St. Peter’s Square in the convertible “popemobile,” stopping several times to embrace a few of the faithful and to accept some small gifts — all with a dozen or more security personnel keeping pace on foot.
Safety was on the minds of those gathered for the Mass.
“We’re on a ski trip in northern Italy and six months ago we made our plans to come to Rome for Easter, and when the attacks happened in Brussels, it made us think for a moment about canceling,” said Rita O’Dowd, 55, a dentist from Ireland.
“But we lived for a while near Northern Ireland during the troubles there, and what you learn is that you cannot live worrying about what might happen,” O’Dowd said.
Johanna Rager, 46, who works at a clinical research company in the United Kingdom, agreed.
“I love this pope and the way he lives the lessons he teaches rather than just taking about them,” said Rager, who traveled to Rome with four other family members. “I think he would say you can’t stop living life because of fear.”
Italian news reports say the pope’s personal security detail has been increased in recent weeks, though the Vatican insists it is not worried about risks to the pontiff. Several of the faithful here said they did have concerns about Francis’ well-being amid the recent increase in terror attacks in Europe, but a few said they believed the pope would be fine.
“I understand why there is so much security, but I think the pope will be OK,” said Donna Stowe, 66, an administrator at a Christian broadcasting company in South Bend, Ind. “He’s doing the Lord’s work, and I think the Lord will protect him.”
SOURCE: Eric J. Lyman