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Pope Francis offers Easter messages of hope from the Vatican

Pope Francis has given the traditional Urbi et Orbi message and blessing for Easter to Catholic followers around the world from the Vatican. His Easter Vigil Mass gave emphasis to hope.

Pope Francis celebrated Easter Sunday Mass at midday in St. Peter's Square, giving his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) message and blessing. It is one of the best-known rites of the Roman Catholic Church.

May Jesus "draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world, as in the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Iraq," Pope Francis said.

"The Easter message of the risen Christ 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 from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice," the pontiff added.

Tens of thousands of Catholic followers were allowed onto the square amid tight security under clear blue skies and sunshine. Police checked handbags and backpacks for all those heading to hear the pontiff's traditional noontime blessing and speech on world affairs.

The Urbi et Orbi also offers a pardon for sins, both for those attending the ceremony in Rome and for people following the blessing on radio and television and via "new technology" around the world.

Easter Vigil Mass

In Saturday evening's Easter Vigil Mass, Pope Francis addressed the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics saying that Christians "cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope."

"May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives," the pope said.

"Today is the celebration of our hope. It is so necessary today," he added.

Pope Francis' call to hope on the eve of the most

joyful celebration

in the Christian calendar was, however, contrasted sharply with the mood in his

condemnation in recent days of the attacks in Brussels

and elsewhere by Islamic extremists.

A collective cross to bear

Pope Francis led thousands of believers into the silent and darkened basilica at the start of the service on Saturday evening. There was a single candle guiding him at the start of the vigil. He also baptized 12 adult converts to Catholicism from Italy, Albania, Cameroon, South Korea, India and China.

Pope Francis leads procession into St Peter's

Pope Francis led the procession into St. Peter's Basilica with the light of a single candle

The nighttime service was preceded by the Way of the Cross, a re-enactment of the 14 stops that Catholics believe Jesus made as he was led to his crucifixion. This year perhaps more than before, The Way of the Cross procession affected many of the faithful attending the service, still trying to come to grasp with renewed terror attacks in Europe.

"To live Easter means to enter into the mystery of Jesus, who died and rose for us," Francis announced via his Twitter social media account on Easter Saturday.

Goodwill on Easter

The pontiff also had sleeping bags handed out to homeless people in Rome. They were distributed by Papal Almoner Konrad Krajewski and several volunteers. The sleeping bags were intended as a gifts from the pope "in spiritual unity" with the pre-Easter rite.

On Maundy Thursday, Francis had

washed the feet of several refugees

of various religious backgrounds in a show of "humility and service."

Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion, is considered the most important event in the Christian calendar.

ss/jm (AP, dpa)

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