By Sam Eyoboka with Agency reports
POPE Francis is expected to mark the first Easter Sunday mass of his papacy today few hours after he celebrated his maiden Easter vigil just as he prayed for peace in the Middle East and stronger Christian-Muslim dialogue at a torch-lit ceremony for Good Friday.
The newly-elected Argentine pope yesterday presided over a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica from 8.30 p.m. local time, baptising four adult converts—an Albanian, an Italian, a Russian and a US national.
The ceremony effectively wrapped up a series of intensive preparations leading up to Easter Sunday—the holiest day in the Christian calendar—by the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather today for the Easter Sunday mass when the Pope will issue a special blessing from the same balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he appeared on the night of his election.
Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican’s official daily Osservatore Romano, said seeing the new Pope during Easter helped explain the timing of his predecessor Benedict XVI’s resignation.
Meanwhile the Argentine Pope reached out in friendship to “so many Muslim brothers and sisters” during a Good Friday procession dedicated to the suffering of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle East.
The pontiff, who has rankled traditionalists by rejecting many trappings of his office, mostly stuck to the traditional script during the night-time Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum, one of the most dramatic rituals of Holy Week.
With torches lighting the way, the faithful carried a cross to different stations,where meditations and prayers were read out recalling the final hours of Jesus’ life and his crucifixion.
This year, the prayers were composed by young Lebanese, and many recalled the plight of minority Christians in the region, where wars have forced thousands to flee their homelands. The meditations called for an end to “violent fundamentalism,” terrorism and the “wars and violence which in our days devastate various countries in the Middle East.”
Francis, who became pope just over two weeks ago, chose, however, to stress Christians’ positive relations with Muslims in the region in his brief comments at the end of the ceremony.
Standing on a platform overlooking the procession route, Francis recalled Benedict XVI’s 2012 visit to Lebanon when “we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others. That occasion was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world, a sign of hope,” he said.
Friday’s outreach followed Francis’ eyebrow-raising gesture a day earlier, when he washed and kissed the feet of two women, one a Muslim, in the Holy Thursday ritual that commemorates Jesus’ washing of his apostles’ feet during the Last Supper before his crucifixion.
Breaking with tradition, Francis performed the ritual on 12 inmates at a juvenile detention center, rather than in Rome’s grand St. John Lateran Basilica, where in the past, 12 priests have been chosen to represent Jesus’ disciples.