VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Easter is a promise that no matter how dark the world may seem and no matter how heavy the burdens one carries, victory belongs to the Risen Christ and all who believe in him, Pope Francis said.

“Let us lift our eyes to him and ask that the power of his resurrection may roll away the heavy stones that weigh down our souls,” the pope said in his homily at the Easter Vigil March 30.

An aide hands Pope Francis his candle, lighted from the paschal candle, at the beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 30, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“Let us lift our eyes to him, the Risen Lord, and press forward in the certainty that, against the obscure backdrop of our failed hopes and our deaths, the eternal life that he came to bring is even now present in our midst,” he said.

After staying home the night before rather than preside over the Way of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum, the pope arrived at the basilica in a wheelchair. Although he had to clear his throat several times, he read the entire prepared text of his homily.

During the Mass, two deacons brought a baptismal font to Pope Francis, and he baptized eight adults: four Italians, two South Koreans, a man from Japan and a woman from Albania. He also confirmed them and gave them their first Communion.

The liturgy began in the back of St. Peter’s Basilica, under a tapestry of the Risen Christ, with the blessing of the fire and the lighting of the Easter candle.

Norbertine Brother Gerard P. Juhasz, a deacon from St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California, carried the paschal candle into a darkened St. Peter’s Basilica, chanting three times, “Lumen Christi” (Latin for “the Light of Christ”). After being blessed by Pope Francis, he sang the Exsultet, the solemn Easter proclamation.

In his homily, Pope Francis asked the congregation of about 6,000 people to think about what the women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body must have been thinking and feeling.

Pope Francis baptizes a man during the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 30, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“The tears of Good Friday are not yet dried; they are grief-stricken, overwhelmed by the sense that all has been said and done,” the pope said.

And, according to the Gospel of Mark, they are worried about being able to move the stone away so they can anoint Jesus’ body.

“That stone marked the end of Jesus’ story, now buried in the night of death,” the pope said. “He, the life that came into the world, had been killed. He, who proclaimed the merciful love of the Father, had met with no mercy. He, who relieved sinners of the burden of their condemnation, had been condemned to the cross.”

But, Pope Francis said, the stone also represents the weight on the heart of Jesus’ female disciples and the burdens carried by everyone who is grief-stricken and without hope.

“There are times when we may feel that a great stone blocks the door of our hearts, stifling life, extinguishing hope, imprisoning us in the tomb of our fears and regrets, and standing in the way of joy and hope,” he said.

Those “tombstones,” he said, can come with the death of a loved one, a failure to do good, a missed chance to build a more just society and “in all our aspirations for peace that are shattered by cruel hatred and the brutality of war.”

But the Gospel says that when the women “looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back.”

“This is the Pasch of Christ, the revelation of God’s power: the victory of life over death, the triumph of light over darkness, the rebirth of hope amid the ruins of failure,” Pope Francis said. “It is the Lord, the God of the impossible, who rolled away the stone forever.”

“Even now,” the pope said, “he opens our tombs so that hope may be born ever anew. We too, then, should ‘look up’ to him.”

“If we allow Jesus to take us by the hand, no experience of failure or sorrow, however painful, will have the last word on the meaning and destiny of our lives,” he said. “Henceforth, if we allow ourselves to be raised up by the Risen Lord, no setback, no suffering, no death will be able to halt our progress toward the fullness of life.”

“Let us welcome Jesus, the God of life, into our lives, and today once again say ‘yes’ to him,” Pope Francis said. “Then no stone will block the way to our hearts, no tomb will suppress the joy of life, no failure will doom us to despair.”

(OSV News) – A proclamation from the nation’s second Catholic president on a transgender-themed occasion is causing consternation among some faithful, as the date coincides this year with Easter – and as the annual White House Easter egg art contest bans, among other things, religious symbolism.

On March 29, President Joe Biden issued his annual message for the March 31 “International Transgender Day of Visibility,” which he said “honor(s) the extraordinary courage and contributions of transgender Americans and reaffirm(s) our Nation’s commitment to forming a more perfect Union.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden attend the White House Easter Egg Roll in Washington, April 10, 2023. The White House issued a proclamation March 29, 2024, for the Transgender Day of Visibility, which is observed annually March 31 and coincides this year with Easter. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

The observance was created in 2009 by psychotherapist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, executive director of the advocacy group Transgender Michigan and its Transgender Michigan help line.

Crandall-Crocker recently told NPR that her goal was to create a celebratory day distinct from the Nov. 20 “Transgender Day of Remembrance.” That event was launched in 1999 to “highlight the need for awareness around anti-transgender violence,” founder Gwendolyn Ann Smith explained in a 2012 Huffington Post essay.

At the same time, the White House instructed youth participating in its traditional Easter egg art contest to refrain from designs with “religious symbols” and “overtly religious themes,” as well as “partisan political statements”; hateful and discriminatory material, and “any questionable content.”

Easter, or Pascha, is the chief religious feast in all Christian churches, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead three days after his crucifixion on Good Friday. The tradition of dyed “Easter eggs” is believed to have originated with Persia’s early Christians, as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, with the custom gradually spreading to the other Eastern and then Western churches.

Easter is a feast whose date is meant to be close to the Jewish feast of Passover — when the Gospels say Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection took place — while also taking place on a Sunday. It changes each year depending on a complex calculation of spring lunar months and the solar calendar. In the Catholic Church and other Protestant churches, Easter is celebrated in 2024 on March 31; most Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on May 5 due to calendar differences.

Biden’s proclamation, the simultaneous dates of Easter and the transgender observance, and the White House contest rules combined to spark outrage on social media.

Among those weighing was Catholic pro-life advocate Lila Rose, who wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, March 30 that the White House “will proudly celebrate the religion of the trans cult, but ban Christian ‘symbols or themes’ on the biggest Christian holiday – Easter.

“Our ‘Catholic’ President cynically uses the faith when convenient as a selling point, and then mocks and denigrates it,” she wrote.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “‘Being man’ or ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator. Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity ‘in the image of God.’ In their ‘being-man’ and ‘being-woman,’ they reflect the Creator’s wisdom and goodness.”

In March 2023, the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee issued a 14-page statement declaring that surgical, chemical or other interventions that aim “to exchange” a person’s “sex characteristics” for those of the opposite sex “are not morally justified.”

“The human person, body and soul, man or woman, has a fundamental order and finality whose integrity must be respected,” said the committee, chaired by Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas. “Because of this order and finality, neither patients nor physicians nor researchers nor any other persons have unlimited rights over the body; they must respect the order and finality inscribed in the embodied person.”

The doctrine committee acknowledged that “many people are sincerely looking for ways to respond to real problems and real suffering.”

Nevertheless, the doctrine committee said that “any technological intervention that does not accord with the fundamental order of the human person as a unity of body and soul, including the sexual difference inscribed in the body, ultimately does not help but, rather, harms the human person.”

In October 2023, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “a transsexual — even one who has undergone hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery — may receive baptism under the same conditions as other faithful,” if it would not cause scandal or confusion among other Catholics.

The dicastery said in the same document that “there is nothing in current universal canonical legislation that prohibits” transgender or other persons who identify as LGBTQ+ from serving as a witness at a Catholic wedding.

ROME (CNS) – For the second year in a row, Pope Francis followed the nighttime Way of the Cross service from his Vatican residence as 25,000 people gathered outside Rome’s Colosseum.
While he had been scheduled to attend in person, the Vatican released a communique right at the start of the service March 29 that the pope would follow the event at home “to conserve his health ahead of tomorrow’s vigil and Easter Sunday Mass.” 

Workers carried away the white chair that had been set up for the pope atop a hillside overlooking the ancient amphitheater and Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, papal vicar for Rome, filled in for the pope, offering the final blessing at the end of the ceremony.  

About 25,000 people attend the Good Friday Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum March 29, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

While the late night temperatures in Rome March 29 were in the low 60s, there was a slight breeze and 45% humidity. The pope also skipped attending the Colosseum event last year after he had been released just six days prior from the hospital where he had spent three nights for a respiratory infection. 

Each year, the pope chooses a different person or group of people to write the series of prayers and reflections that are read aloud for each of the 14 stations, which commemorate Christ’s condemnation, his carrying the cross to Golgotha, his crucifixion and his burial.

This year the commentaries and prayers were written by Pope Francis and were meant, during this Year of Prayer, to “accompany” Jesus on his own journey of prayer during his passion.

“Of us, you asked only one thing: to remain with you and to keep awake. You did not ask something impossible, but simply closeness. We now take this time to be with you. We want to spend it in closeness to you,” the pope wrote in his introduction to the solemn torch-lit service in the Colosseum.

“How many times, though, have I strayed far from you! How many times, like the disciples, rather than keeping awake, have I instead fallen asleep! How many times have I failed to find the time or the desire to pray, whether from weariness, distraction or dullness of mind and heart! Lord Jesus, say once more to me and to us, your Church: ‘Get up and pray,'” the pope wrote.

Different groups of people representing different segments of the church and society passed a bare wooden cross from one group to the next in succession. Those chosen to lead the Way of the Cross included minors living in foster homes, people with disabilities, migrants, catechists, priests and cloistered nuns.

Instead of the traditional station for “Jesus falls for the third time,” the pope created a meditation for the 11th Station dedicated to “Jesus’ cry of abandonment,” reflecting on Jesus’ “unexpected” prayer of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“At the height of your passion, you experience the distance of the Father; you no longer even call him ‘Father,’ but ‘God,’ almost as if you can no longer glimpse his face. Why?” the meditation said.

“So that you can plunge into the abyss of our pain. You did this for my sake, so that when I see only darkness, when I experience the collapse of my certainties and the wreckage of my life, I will no longer feel alone, but realize that you are there beside me,” it said.

The prayers included asking Jesus to “help me recognize you and love you”: in the unborn and abandoned children; in young people in pain; in the elderly who have been forgotten; in prisoners; and in those who are exploited and ignored.

For the eighth Station, “Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem,” the pope highlighted those who remained with Jesus to the end along the way of the cross.

“Those ordinary people who are great in your eyes, yet small in the eyes of the world. There are the women, in whom you inspired hope: they have no voice, yet they make their presence felt,” the meditation said.

“Help us to recognize the dignity of those women who remained faithful and stood by you in your passion, and those who in our own day are exploited and endure injustice and indignity,” it said.

The pope’s reflection asked people to consider: “When I am faced with the tragedies of today’s world, is my heart frozen or does it melt? How do I react when I see the madness of war, the faces of children no longer able to smile and of mothers who see them hungry and underfed, and have no more tears to shed?”

“Jesus, you wept over Jerusalem; you weep over the hardness of our hearts,” it said, asking people pray to Jesus to “melt my hardened heart.”

For the 12th Station, “Jesus dies, commending himself to the Father and the good thief to paradise,” the pope underlined “the amazing power of prayer” that led a criminal to heaven.

“God of the impossible, you turn a thief into a saint,” it said, because “If you remember me, my evil will no longer be an endpoint but a new beginning.”

The concluding reflection at the 14th Station asked the faithful to think about “what new gift will I give Jesus this Easter? A little more time to spend with him? A little more love for others?”

“It will truly be Easter if only I give something of myself to the One who gave his life for me. For it is in giving that we receive, and we find our lives whenever we lose them, our possessions whenever we give them away,” it said.

Earlier in the day in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis presided over the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, which commemorates Christ’s passion and death on the cross.

The pope arrived in a wheelchair and began the rite after a moment of silent prayer before the main altar, which was framed by covered scaffolding encapsulating the immense baldachin undergoing a 10-month-long restoration.

Following tradition, the homily was delivered by Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household.

The papal preacher said, God’s power is the power of his humble, defenseless love.

He reflected on how Jesus overturned the worldly ideas people had of God and revealed his true face.

“Unfortunately, in our unconscious, we continue to carry on this very idea of God that Jesus came to change. We can speak of a God who is pure spirit, supreme being, and so on, but how can we see him in the annihilation of his death on the cross?” the cardinal asked. 
“The Father reveals the true face of his omnipotence in his Son who kneels before the disciples to wash their feet; in him who is reduced to the most radical powerlessness on the cross and continues to love and forgive, without condemning anyone,” Cardinal Cantalamessa said.

“The omnipotence of God is the omnipotence of defenseless love,” he said.

“What a lesson for us who, more or less consciously, always want to show off. What a lesson for the powerful of the earth,” especially those who pursue power only for power’s sake and those who “oppress the people and, in addition, ‘call themselves benefactors,'” the cardinal said.

Conquering death, the Risen Christ does not seek revenge “to humiliate his opponents. He does not appear in their midst to prove them wrong or to mock their impotent anger,” the cardinal said, because that “would be incompatible with the love that Christ wanted to bear witness to in his passion.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – God’s power is the power of his humble, defenseless love, the papal preacher told Pope Francis and thousands of people gathered for the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion.

“It takes little power to show off; it takes a lot of power to put oneself aside and to conceal oneself. God is this unlimited power of self-concealment,” as he emptied himself for humanity, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa said in his homily March 29 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis kisses the crucifix during the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 29, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“What a lesson for us who, more or less consciously, always want to show off. What a lesson for the powerful of the earth,” especially those who pursue power only for power’s sake and those who “oppress the people and, in addition, ‘call themselves benefactors,'” the cardinal said.

Presided over by Pope Francis, the service on Good Friday commemorates Christ’s passion and death on the cross.

The pope arrived in a wheelchair and began the rite after a moment of silent prayer before the main altar, which was framed by covered scaffolding encapsulating the immense baldachin undergoing a 10-month-long restoration.

During the veneration of the cross, after the homily, the pope stood at his chair wearing a red stole and prayed in silence before kissing the cross. The cross was then brought before the main altar for veneration, and a long line of cardinals and a few members of the faithful processed before the cross to bow or genuflect and kiss Christ’s figure. The pope then held the cross and lifted it briefly as the congregation knelt.

Following tradition, the homily was delivered by Cardinal Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household.

He reflected on how Jesus overturned the worldly ideas people had of God and revealed his true face.

“Unfortunately, in our unconscious, we continue to carry on this very idea of God that Jesus came to change. We can speak of a God who is pure spirit, supreme being, and so on, but how can we see him in the annihilation of his death on the cross?” the cardinal asked.

“God is all-powerful, no doubt, but what kind of power is it?” he added. Jesus does not intervene to stop what is being done to him, but respects “to an infinite degree, the free choice of human beings.”

“And so, the Father reveals the true face of his omnipotence in his Son who kneels before the disciples to wash their feet; in him who is reduced to the most radical powerlessness on the cross and continues to love and forgive, without condemning anyone,” Cardinal Cantalamessa said.

“The omnipotence of God is the omnipotence of defenseless love,” he said.

Jesus’ passion and death on the cross was his way of telling the faithful that “after having suffered, we should not expect an external, visible triumph, such as earthly glory,” he said. “The triumph is given in the invisible and is of an infinitely superior order because it is eternal!”

Conquering death, the Risen Christ does not seek revenge “to humiliate his opponents. He does not appear in their midst to prove them wrong or to mock their impotent anger,” the cardinal said, because that “would be incompatible with the love that Christ wanted to bear witness to in his passion.”

“The concern of the risen Jesus is not to confuse his enemies, but to go and reassure his dismayed disciples and, before them, the women who had never stopped believing in him,” he said.

“Let us accept the invitation that Jesus addresses to the world from his cross: ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,'” Cardinal Cantalamessa said.

“Come to me, you who are old, sick and alone, you whom the world lets die in poverty, hunger or while under bombardment; you who languish in prison cells because of your faith in me or your battle for freedom; come to me, you woman victim of the violence. In short, everyone, excluding no one: Come to me, and I will give you rest!” he said.

Pope Francis was scheduled later that night to preside over the Stations of the Cross in Rome’s Colosseum.

The theme for the meditations for the 14 stations was “In Prayer with Jesus on the Way of the Cross.” The commentaries and prayers were written by Pope Francis and were meant, during this Year of Prayer, to “accompany” Jesus on his own journey of prayer during his passion.

The text of the commentary and prayers on the 14 Stations of the Cross was published March 29 on the Vatican website.

SCRANTON – Faithful throughout the Diocese of Scranton observed Good Friday on March 29 with various street processions and liturgies in their parishes.

The Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at the Cathedral of Saint Peter, which was led by the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, allowed people to pray and reflect on the significance of the day.

The solemnity of Good Friday was underscored as Bishop Bambera and the other ministers processed silently into the Cathedral at 12:10 p.m. The Bishop and Deacons then prostrated themselves on the sanctuary floor before the liturgy began.

Bishop Bambera and Deacons serving the Good Friday liturgy prostrate themselves on the floor of the sanctuary at the start of the service. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

On Good Friday, the faithful observe the passion and death of Jesus Christ. They are encouraged to ponder the five Sacred Wounds Jesus suffered during the crucifixion and bring their own wounds and sins to the foot of the cross. In His own body, Jesus brought our sins to the cross so that all of us may be healed.

Father Jeffrey D. Tudgay, Pastor of the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Immaculate Conception Parishes, served as homilist for the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion. He focused much of his remarks on that redemption.

“In Christ, and through His cross, everything in God’s beautiful creation is redeemed,” Father Tudgay said.

Father Jeffrey D. Tudgay, Pastor of the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Immaculate Conception Parishes, delivers the homily on Good Friday.

Having just listened to the Passion of Christ in the Gospel, Father Tudgay reflected on the “silence” of God as Christ was on the cross.

“As the drama of Christ’s arrest and condemnation unfold, and as he’s goaded to call down the powers of heaven into the agony of the moment, the suffering servant (Jesus) cries out from the cross, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ The Father’s response: silence,” Father Tudgay said.

The Cathedral pastor compared that with other moments when the Father’s voice was “clearly heard” – including at his baptism at the Jordan River and the Transfiguration.

Father Tudgay suggested that the Father’s silence can deepen our understanding of the love of Christ.

“What we see in the cross of Jesus Christ is an expression of the urgency of God’s desire – Christ stopping at nothing – in order to fulfill the mission given to Him by the Father,” Father Tudgay explained. “The cross of Christ is everywhere in our world. It’s the eyes of faith that allow us to see it. The cross of Jesus Christ makes God’s love tangible for all.”

Wrapping up his homily, Father Tudgay said Christ’s plea resembles any human suffering that might seem to go unheard or unanswered.

Faithful line up inside the Cathedral of Saint Peter March 29 to participate in the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday.

“What we know today and what we contemplate today is that the silence is fully redemptive,” he said. “Today the silence that the Christian church observes is an invitation for us to contemplate the radical compassion of God, to know with certainty, that there is nothing, nothing in human existence, even death itself, that is alienated from the redeeming presence of the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Following Solemn Intercessions, Adoration of the Holy Cross took place inside the Cathedral of Saint Peter. Each person in attendance was invited to approach the sanctuary and genuflect, bow, kiss, or show an appropriate sign of reverence for the cross.

SCRANTON – In the presence of several hundred people, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, celebrated the Evening Mass of Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of Saint Peter on March 28, 2024.

As the Sacred Triduum began, Bishop Bambera acknowledged the three important gifts being celebrated at the Mass.

During the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on March 28, 2024, Bishop Bambera washed the feet of 12 parishioners, following the example of Jesus at the Last Supper. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

“On this night, we give thanks for God’s abiding presence, for his presence given to us in the Eucharist, for the blessing of priestly ministry, and for the invitation given to all the baptized, to serve, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and to reach out to our brothers and sisters in care,” the Bishop said.

After the homily, Bishop Bambera knelt to wash and dry the feet of a dozen parishioners, following the example of Jesus at the Last Supper.

Rev. Gerald W. Shantillo, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, delivered the homily, reflecting on the gifts of service, priesthood, and the Eucharist.

“As Jesus gives us these three gifts at the Last Supper, He fully recognized that in doing so, we are called to share in the risk of His mission, even when it makes us uncomfortable,” Father Shantillo said.

When it comes to serving others, he raised many of the questions people raise when they are hesitant to serve: Will it take too much time? Will others judge me? Do they deserve it?

“Let us pray for a world where priests, families, parishes, countries, and government leaders want to wash the feet of others, want to love, compromise, show mercy, forgive, and sacrifice for peace,” he said.

In regards to the priesthood, Father Shantillo explained God does not call men to the priesthood for the individual themselves, but for those he will serve.

At the conclusion of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Bishop Bambera led a Eucharistic procession through the Cathedral of Saint Peter to the Altar of Repose.

“We thank God for the gift of the priesthood and for men who take a risk to dedicate their lives to serve Christ and His Church,” he said. “Let us pray for more priests and for the seminarians who serve here tonight.”

Finally, in speaking about the Eucharist, Father Shantillo reminded the faithful that the Eucharist’s true end is not simply in the act of Adoration or consumption, “but rather our healing, forgiveness, transformation, strength and conversion.”

Following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Bishop Bambera led a Eucharistic procession to the Altar of Repose where the faithful were invited to spend time in silent prayer and meditation.

ROME (CNS) – As Pope Francis poured water over their feet, dried them with a towel and kissed their feet, 12 women inmates at Rome’s Rebibbia prison wept.

The pope celebrated the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper March 28 at the women’s prison under a tent set up outside.

The 12 women whose feet were washed by Pope Francis during the liturgy sat on stools on a raised platform so the pope, who has difficulty walking, could wash their feet while seated in his wheelchair.

Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate after washing it during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Rebibbia women’s prison on the outskirts of Rome March 28, 2024. The pontiff washed the feet of 12 inmates at the prison. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Many of the women were wearing warmup suits and were fidgeting as they awaited the pope. They included women from Italy, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Ukraine, Peru, Venezuela and Bosnia-Herzegovina. All are housed in the medium-security section, Vatican News reported.

Since it was Pope Francis’ first Holy Thursday visit to a prison with only women present, it was the first time as pope that he washed the feet only of women.

After Mass, he gave a large chocolate Easter egg to a little boy, the only toddler currently living with his mother in the prison, according to the prison director. Italian prisons have special units for mothers with children and the law allows women who are detained to keep their children with them until they are 3 years old.

Pope Francis has made a tradition of celebrating the Holy Thursday Mass at a prison or juvenile detention facility, often washing the feet of both men and women, whether Catholic or not.

And, keeping with his practice at the facilities, he gave only a brief homily, speaking without notes.

By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus humbles himself, the pope said. “With this gesture, he makes us understand what he had said, ‘I came not to be served but to serve.’ He teaches us the path of service.”

The evening Gospel reading also included the line, “The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.”

Pope Francis told the women that Judas was incapable of love, and so “money, selfishness lead him to this horrible thing” of betraying Jesus.

But, the pope said, “Jesus forgives everything. Jesus always forgives. He only asks that we ask pardon.”

Quoting a “wise, old woman,” Pope Francis said, “Jesus never tires of forgiving, but we tire of asking forgiveness.”

“Today, let’s ask the Lord for the grace not to tire,” he said. “All of us have small failures, big failures — everyone has their own story — but the Lord awaits us always with open arms and never tires of forgiving.”

Before he washed the women’s feet, he encouraged the women to pray that “the Lord will make all of us grow in the vocation of service.”

The Vatican press office said about 200 people were present, including many seated outside the tent on the lawn. The prison director said 360 women are currently housed at the facility.

Archbishop Diego Giovanni Ravelli, the papal master of liturgical ceremonies, was the main celebrant at the altar.

Father Andrea Carosella, the main chaplain at the Rebibbia prison complex, told Vatican News that the women themselves invited the pope. “For them, the pope’s visit is a sign of his great attention to the prison reality and is a great encouragement.”

Pope Francis washing the women’s feet, he said, “is a sign of the mercy and love of God who goes out to meet the suffering and pain of humanity.”

Sister Maria Pia Iammarino, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, told Vatican News that Pope Francis’ ministry to the women is a model.

In her ministry at the prison, she said, “I do not need to tell them that God loves them, but to be a witness of God’s love for them, to look at them with benevolence and acceptance without judgment. Then, when you have gained the trust of the inmates, you can add words.”

Dear Friends,

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

These words from Saint Mark’s Gospel confronted the first followers of Jesus on the day of his resurrection and boldly affirmed God’s promise to save his people. Yet, despite the hope that such words imparted, the followers of Jesus were still amazed and fearful. They didn’t understand. They would come to faith in the resurrection- but not immediately.

We know from accounts recorded in the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christian community did come to embrace Easter faith. We know too that despite the challenges that they faced, because of their encounter with the risen Jesus, they were of one mind and heart and worked together to proclaim by their lives the living presence of God in the world.

And yet, not unlike the experiences of those first Christians, the harsh reality of life continues to confront us with suffering and death. We have only to look to the Holy Land and the war raging between Israel and Hamas – to Ukraine – to Haiti – to Syria – to the families who grieve senseless deaths from the recent terrorist attack in Moscow – and to far too many lands around the globe that are enveloped by political unrest, abuse and blatant disrespect for human life. The scope of suffering and pain that is present throughout our world on a daily basis is incomprehensible.

While hardly free from grief and pain in our own land, in our families, and in our personal lives, we can choose to retreat from the global reality confronting so many of our brothers and sisters. Or, we can turn to the only thing that enables our broken world and lives to find healing, hope and peace: the Easter miracle – the promise of redemption won for us through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus!

The great Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in a Nazi death camp weeks before the Allied victory in World War II, challenged his fellow Christians to understand that the resurrection does not merely promise us life in God’s eternity. Nor should redemption be reduced to “being redeemed out of sorrows, hardships and longings or an escape route out of earthly tasks and difficulties.” Rather, the risen Christ “takes hold of human beings in the midst of their lives. … Christ did not die to take us out of the world, but to affirm our existence in it. Yes, we have the hope of resurrection in the future. But we have the faith of redemption in the here and now.”

Pope Francis, reflecting upon our need for hope as we navigate a complicated world and our own challenging lives, put it best.

“To experience the hope of Easter, we must be willing to enter into the mystery of God. … The mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions. … To enter into the mystery of God, we need the humility to recognize who we really are, creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness,” the Holy Father said.

As such, we need to appreciate our powerlessness and our absolute dependence upon God.

In fact, powerlessness and dependence upon God become the very seedbeds for faith; a faith born not from some sort of proof – but born within hearts that are humble enough to seek the presence of God – a faith characterized at times by uncertainty and doubt – but a faith, nonetheless, that leads to an unshakable trust in a person: the person of Jesus, risen from the dead. That is Easter, brothers and sisters, and where we find hope and lasting peace.

One of the greatest signs of the power of the resurrection is the presence of 177 catechumens and candidates from throughout the Diocese of Scranton who will be baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and presented for full communion in the Catholic Church during the great Vigil of Easter. These catechumens and candidates – our relatives, neighbors and friends – will join with thousands of catechumens and candidates from around the world to publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ and to assume their place with us in Jesus’ body, the Church.

Brothers and sisters, thank you for your willingness to walk with me on this incredible journey of faith, along with our dedicated priests and deacons and women and men in consecrated life, as together we seek to proclaim the risen Jesus and his gospel of life.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!

Faithfully yours in the Risen Christ,


Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera
Bishop of Scranton


Priests from the Diocese of Scranton celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist during the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Photos/Mike Melisky)


SCRANTON — More than any other day of the liturgical year, the Tuesday of Holy Week spiritually draws the hearts and souls of faithful throughout the Diocese of Scranton to the solemn setting of the Cathedral of Saint Peter in downtown Scranton for the celebration of the Pontifical Mass of the Sacred Chrism.

On Tuesday afternoon, March 26, as principal celebrant and homilist for the venerable gathering, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, once again warmly welcomed to the Mother Church of the Diocese the throng of worshippers of all ages who came from the four corners of the 11-county Scranton See to take part in the annual Eucharistic liturgy, so richly concelebrated by the priests serving the Diocese in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania.

The traditional Holy Week observance and gathering of the priests of the Diocese — customarily the largest of its kind each year — celebrates their clerical brotherhood and shared divine vocation.

During the Mass, priests and deacons, along with lay representatives from Diocesan parishes, acknowledge the Bishop’s role as the unifying symbol for Church governance and pastoral guidance.

During the Chrism Mass, priests are invited to stand and renew their dedication to Christ and to the service of His people.

All of the priests also recommit themselves to their office by renewing the promises they made on the day of their ordination to the priesthood, including their vow of obedience to the Bishop.

“I love coming to this gathering,” said Father John Chmil, pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Swoyersville. “I especially look forward every year to renewing my priestly vows and promises, and the commitment to serve God’s people.”

Echoing similar sentiments was Father Gus Ricciardi, who serves as pastor of Old Forge’s Prince of Peace Parish.

“This Chrism Mass is a wonderful opportunity for us as fellow priests to get together not only for the camaraderie, but in fraternal community to renew our vows in support of each other and with the support of the Bishop,” Father Ricciardi commented.

Holding to ancient tradition, the Mass of the Sacred Chrism is highlighted by the blessing of the Holy Oils used during the conferral of sacraments throughout the Church year. They include the Oil of the Sick, and the Oil of Catechumens, which are used in the celebration of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Rites of the Catechumenate.

Bishop Bambera breathes upon the opening of the vessel of the Sacred Chrism during the Consecration Act.

Father Bob Simon, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Brodheadsville, described the annual Chrism Mass gathering as a “beautiful time for our priests, deacons, and religious brothers to celebrate our ministry in the company of our Bishop.”

He further expressed, “It is also so special because you reflect and think about all the people who will be anointed during the coming year with the sacred oils that will be blessed here tonight.”

Bishop Bambera began his homily by referring to the day’s Chrism Mass as a sign of the unity of God’s people with their bishop and a time when the Church calls everyone to engage in the journey of the sacramental life it offers to all believers.

“Beginning with our first encounter with the Lord at Baptism and continuing with Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick, right up to the moment when we prepare for our final journey to meet the Lord, through the use of sacred oils that we bless this day, God’s merciful love is poured forth into our lives,” Bishop Bambera stated.

Addressing his brother priests directly, the Scranton Bishop offered, “Brothers, I thank you for engaging in the hard work of priestly ministry in these challenging times — times that demand a great deal from each of us as we discern how best to continue to serve our people and parishes.”

“Without a doubt, we are richly blessed with generous seminarians who join us today, as well as the presence of so many international priests who minister among us apart from their families, home dioceses and religious communities,” he added.

In his concluding remarks, Bishop Bambera spoke to the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton by saying, “To all my brothers and sisters who make up this local Church, thank you for living your baptism, for embracing the values of the Gospel and for doing your part in building up God’s Kingdom.”