Saturday 26 March 2016
TENS OF THOUSANDS of faithful clutching candles have watched Pope Francis' Easter address against a backdrop of Rome's ancient Colosseum.
The Brussels attacks, rejected asylum seekers, the sexual abuse of children and slavery were all condemned during the Good Friday address.
Pope Francis said Europe's reaction to the asylum seeker crisis had been blunted by ‘our indifferent and anaesthetised conscience’.
‘O Cross of Christ, today we see you in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas which have become insatiable cemeteries, reflections of our indifferent and anaesthetised conscience,’ the 79-year old pontiff said, referring to the thousands who set off in unseaworthy boats to reach Greece and the rest of Europe.
Pope Francis has long called for the global community to open its doors to refugees and fight xenophobia — appeals which have intensified since a controversial deal between Europe and Turkey to expel asylum seekers arriving by boat in Greece.
The Argentine pontiff did not spare the ills within the Church, fiercely denouncing paedophile priests, describing them as those ‘unfaithful ministers who, instead of stripping themselves of their own vain ambitions, divest even the innocent of their dignity’.
In the wake of this week's deadly attacks in Brussels, Pope Francis slammed ‘terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence’.
The pope added that ‘arms dealers who feed the cauldron of war with the innocent blood of our brothers and sisters’ and he raged against ‘traitors who, for 30 pieces of silver, would consign anyone to death’.
Pope Francis also evoked the expressions on the faces of children fleeing war ‘who often only find death and many Pilates who wash their hands’ - a reference to Pontius Pilate, who, according to Christian tradition, said he was bowing to public demand in ordering Jesus's crucifixion, in a bid to shrug off personal responsibility.
In his wide-ranging diatribe, Pope Francis lashed out at persecutors of Christians in particular, lamenting ‘our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence’.
He also turned a steely gaze on Western cultures, ‘our egotistical and hypocritical society’, which casts off the elderly and disabled and lets its children starve.
Security was tight at the former gladiator battleground, where a small group of believers carried a cross between 14 ‘stations’ evoking the last hours of Jesus's life during the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession.
Two Syrians were joined by fellow Russian, Chinese, and Central African believers in carrying the wooden cross at the historic arena, where thousands of Christians are believed to have been killed in Roman times.
On Saturday, the pontiff will take part in an evening Easter vigil in St Peter's Basilica, before celebrating Easter Mass on Sunday and pronouncing the traditional ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing to Rome and the world.
Pictures courtesy AP, CNS, Reuters