SCRANTON – Ruiwen Su, a senior at Marywood University, has a lot to celebrate this Easter Season.

At the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday, April 8, 2023, the 25 year old officially became a member of the Catholic Church, receiving the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation at the Cathedral of Saint Peter.

The native of Beijing, China, did it with his new fiancé by his side as his sponsor after becoming engaged on the Monday of Holy Week.

Ruiwen Su is baptized by the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, during the Easter Vigil Mass on April 8, 2023, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton. (Photo/Mike Melisky)

“I’m excited and nervous,” Su said about the road ahead.

While studying at Marywood, Su got involved with the music ministry program and began feeling a deeper spiritual calling. He is one of 162 people received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter in parishes throughout the Diocese of Scranton.

“I was born and raised in an atheist country but I still always felt like there was something higher,” Su explained. “I keep looking for the truth and try to dig into the knowledge.”

While Su’s fiancé, Naomi Doyle, grew up in a Catholic family, participating in the RCIA classes helped her grow deeper in her relationship with Jesus as well.

“I feel like God really gave me what I needed to help lead him through,” Doyle said. “Through this entire process, I’ve learned a lot about my faith and have re-affirmed what I believe.”

During his Easter homily, the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, stressed Easter is a time to rejoice and be glad.

“The Risen Jesus is present, here and now! Receive the life and hope that He promises,” the Bishop told the crowd at Easter Sunday Mass. “Like the women who first encountered the empty tomb on the day of resurrection, we are not to linger in this sacred space, reluctant to confront the suffering of our world. Our mission is to go forth boldly from this Cathedral with hope, to both encounter and proclaim the Risen Lord, in our families and neighborhoods!”

Bishop Bambera admitted that amid devastating earthquakes, school shootings and the War in Ukraine, some people might question exactly where the risen Jesus is to be found.

“The road to the resurrection always makes its way through the Cross,” Bishop Bambera noted. “Where do we look to find the risen Jesus? We look to those who suffer, to see the risen Christ and to make His presence known.”

To illustrate his point, the bishop focused on a television news report he had recently seen from the devastation left behind in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, after tornadoes virtually wiped the little town off the map just days before. He quoted one of the survivors, a woman named Melinda, during his homily.

“She had been buried for hours under the debris from her home that was destroyed,” the bishop stated, adding the woman so faithfully stated, “‘We have nothing left, no water, no car, no electricity, no house, no nothing. But by God’s grace and mercy, I was pulled out of a tomb. He saved me for a reason so I’ll trust in Him.’”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Easter is the time “to roll away the stone of the tombs in which we often imprison our hope and to look with confidence to the future, for Christ is risen and has changed the direction of history,” Pope Francis said as he celebrated the Easter Vigil Mass.

“The power of Easter summons you to roll away every stone of disappointment and mistrust,’ the pope said in his homily at the Mass April 8. “The Lord is an expert in rolling back the stones of sin and fear.”

Pope Francis inscribes a cross on the Paschal candle at the beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 8, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The liturgy began in the back of St. Peter’s Basilica, rather than in the atrium as usual, with the blessing of the fire and the lighting of the Easter candle.

As the procession further into the darkened basilica and candles were lighted from the Paschal candle, Deacon Zane Langenbrunner chanted, “Lumen Christi” (“the light of Christ”) three times. The deacon, a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College, is preparing for ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

Despite the glow of cellphone screens, the basilica became increasingly brighter as the 8,000 people in the congregation lighted their candles as well.

Once Pope Francis in his wheelchair, all the concelebrants, the altar servers and two Swiss Guards were in place, Deacon Langenbrunner chanted the solemn Easter proclamation, the Exsultet.

During the Mass, Pope Francis baptized eight people: three people from Albania, two from the United States – Auriea Harvey and Francis X. Phi – and one each from Nigeria, Italy and Venezuela.

Pope Francis baptizes Auriea Harvey, a woman from the United States, during the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 8, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Two deacons carried the baptismal font to the pope and held it in front of him during the rite so that he could baptize the men and women without having to walk or stand, something he does with difficulty.

Pope Francis also confirmed the eight adults and gave them their first Communion during the Easter Vigil.

While Pope Francis presided over the two-and-a-half-hour Mass, Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, was the main concelebrant at the altar.

In his homily, the pope focused on the Gospel story of the women going to Jesus’ tomb, “bewildered and dismayed, their hearts overwhelmed with grief at the death that took away their beloved.”

In the life of faith, he said, “sometimes we too may think that the joy of our encounter with Jesus is something belonging to the past, whereas the present consists mostly of sealed tombs: tombs of disappointment, bitterness and distrust” or of thinking “things will never change.”

People get weary or feel helpless when confronted with evil, or they see relationships torn apart, injustice or corruption go unchecked, he said. “Then too, we may have come face to face with death, because it robbed us of the presence of our loved ones or because we brushed up against it in illness or a serious setback.”

“In these or similar situations, our paths come to a halt before a row of tombs, and we stand there, filled with sorrow and regret, alone and powerless, repeating the question, ‘Why?'” the pope said.

But the Gospel says Jesus’ women disciples did not stand frozen before the tomb. Rather, he said, they run to the disciples “to proclaim a change of course: Jesus is risen and awaits them in Galilee.”

Pope Francis often speaks of the post-Resurrection call to go to Galilee. At the Easter Vigil, he said it is a call to leave the “upper room” where the disciples were hiding in fear and to set out on a mission.

But, he said, it is also a call back to the origins of their relationship with Jesus because they met him in Galilee and began following him there.

The call to go back to Galilee, he said, “asks us to relive that moment, that situation, that experience in which we met the Lord, experienced his love and received a radiantly new way of seeing ourselves, the world around us and the mystery of life itself.”

For each person, he said, Galilee “is the ‘place’ where you came to know Jesus personally, where he stopped being just another personage from a distant past, but a living person: not some distant God but the God who is at your side, who more than anyone else knows you and loves you.”

As an Easter exercise, Pope Francis asked people to think back to a time when they experienced the love of Jesus, when they heard God’s word speak directly to them or when they felt “the great joy” of forgiveness after going to confession.

“Each of us knows the place of his or her interior resurrection, that beginning and foundation, the place where things changed,” the pope said. “We cannot leave this in the past; the Risen Lord invites us to return there to celebrate Easter. Remember your Galilee. Remind yourself.”

“Remember the emotions and sensations,” he suggested; “see the colors and savor the taste of it.”

Rolling away “every stone of disappointment and mistrust,” the pope said, “let each of us return to his or her own Galilee, to the place where we first encountered him. Let us rise to new life.”

Dear Friends,

“Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

These words from Saint Matthew’s gospel proclaimed during the great Vigil of Easter, confronted the first followers of Jesus on the day of His resurrection and boldly affirmed God’s promise to save his people.

Despite such powerful words of faith that we read in the scriptures and proclaim whenever we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, the reality of life at times can consume us with grief, pain and fear. These days are no exception.

Mary Magdalene is depicted with the resurrected Christ in this icon at the Haifa Melkite Cathedral in Israel. Easter, the chief feast in the liturgical calendars of all Christian churches, commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Easter is celebrated April 9 this year. (OSV News artwork/Haifa Melkite Cathedral, Bridgeman Images)

From devastating earthquakes in Syria and Ecuador – to tornadoes that ravaged parts of Mississippi, Arkansas and far too many areas of our land – to once unimaginable school shootings that continue to shatter the security and peace that every child should enjoy – to a senseless war in Ukraine that has raged on for more than a year, leaving death, destruction and shattered dreams in its wake – to our own stories of loss – the scope of suffering and pain that has enveloped our world and our lives is difficult to comprehend.

And so as we have done countless times before in the face of such heartbreak, these sacred days of Holy Week and Easter beckon us to turn to the only place that enables our broken world and lives to find forgiveness, healing, hope and peace: the Paschal Mystery – the Easter miracle – the promise won for us through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus!

But how does a mystery fraught with suffering and death provide us with hope?

In his recently published work, Touch the Wounds, the Czech theologian and priest Tomas Halik writes, “there is no other path or other gate to God than that which is opened by a wounded hand and pierced heart.” The author goes on to reflect upon the depth of Jesus’ love that led him to suffer and to bear the ills of us all, even unto his death on the cross. “Such love represents a force, the only force that survives death itself and overturns its gates with pierced hands.” Halik concludes that in resurrecting the doubting apostle Thomas’ faith by letting him touch his wounds, Jesus was telling him – and us – that “it is where you touch human suffering, and maybe only there, that you will realize that I am alive, that ‘it’s me.’ You will meet me wherever people suffer. Do not shy away from me in any of those meetings. Do not be afraid. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Brothers and sisters, for all that we have experienced throughout the journey of our lives – in joy and gladness, and yes, even in suffering, death and in the many wounds that we have endured – the grace of God does not disappoint! Jesus is risen and lives among us, lifting us from the burdens of this world and carrying us to new life!

As bishop of this great local church of the Diocese of Scranton, I am profoundly touched by the example of your lives. In the midst of all that life unfolds, you continue to live your faith and fulfill the promises of your Baptism. You continue to serve your brothers and sisters. You continue to derive hope from a living relationship with the risen Jesus.

During this Holy Week, I pray that we will all come to appreciate more deeply than ever the fact that we are indeed blessed in more ways than we might believe or imagine. May we hold in our hearts the 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. May we trust in God’s promise to sustain us and dispel our deepest fears. Moreover, may we open our hearts to the risen Jesus and allow him to fill them with his love and peace.

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, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

SCRANTON – After going to church regularly for more than 20 years, Jerry Garner of Lenox Township is now consciously making a decision to join the Catholic faith.

“I think it’s time right now for me to join the church,” he explained. “There has always been an open invitation. I just think it was the right time, the right calling.”

Like thousands of other catechumens, Garner will receive the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Communion – during the Easter Vigil April 8 at Saint Patrick Parish in Nicholson. He has been participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, and feels fully prepared for the faith journey ahead.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, addresses catechumens and their godparents during the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton Feb. 26, 2023. (Photo/Mike Melisky)

“I have been able to get more in touch with Jesus and God and really focus,” he explained. “The process has been terrific. I’m learning a lot more about the church than what I previously knew and it’s been a spiritual journey for me to go through this.”

Clifford Pinner, who will serve as Garner’s godparent, believes there has also been some divine intervention.

“I have three sisters who have been saying novenas for years. The ladies of our parish, after Mass, will also always say to him, ‘When are you going to do it, When are you going to do it,’” Pinner joked.

Garner is one of 162 people from parishes around the Diocese of Scranton who participated in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on Feb. 26, 2023, the First Sunday in Lent.

During the Rite of Election, catechumens – supported by their sponsors, godparents, family members and parish ministers – freely proclaim their desire to receive the Sacraments of Initiation to Bishop Bambera. The individuals who have never been baptized record their names in the Book of the Elect. After the rite, the bishop signs the book as a witness to their faith.

The Call to Continuing Conversion is similar for candidates – those who have been baptized in another Christian tradition and seek to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter. They also publicly profess their intention to receive Communion and confirmation.

Ellen Gomez signs the Book of the Elect for Saint John the Apostle Parish in East Stroudsburg during the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton Feb. 26, 2023.

Cassandra Johnson of Saint Michael Parish in Canton is planning to receive Confirmation this Easter.

“My family has been helping me through everything but mostly it has been the calling from the Lord to come back to be one of His children,” the 15 year old said.
Johnson says she has learned a lot about the Catholic faith through this process.

“We’re learning about each one of the Sacraments and breaking them down. I’m learning a whole lot more than I knew before,” she explained.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as presider and homilist for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion liturgy. He reminded each person that by answering Jesus’ call they are not only affirming His presence in their life but are also committing themselves to embracing His example of service and selfless love.

“You too are being called by God to be here today, to enter into a relationship that has the power to save you from the brokenness of this world and to give you meaning and peace – to do more for God’s people – and to be more than you imagined that you could be,” Bishop Bambera said.

Joseph Maazola and Cheyenne Swimpson, both of Saint Luke Parish in Stroudsburg, are joining the Church so they can be godparents to their niece who will be baptized in late April.

“It was always something I planned on doing but now is the best time because of my goddaughter. It pushed us to move forward,” Swimpson said. “Every Wednesday we have night class for about three hours. We talk about the church and learn what God has created. It is just a wonderful learning experience. You really get to know yourself too throughout the whole process.”

After studying religions for decades, Barbara Clarke and her husband, Dennis, will also join the Catholic Church this Easter.

After being raised in the United Church of Christ, Barbara feels the Catholic Church is the only one not succumbing to societal pressures.

“A lot of churches are changing to become more worldly and I like that Catholics stay with God’s word and do not cave into worldly pressures,” she said.