Pope Francis returns to public eye for Easter vigil Mass

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis returned to public view on Saturday, presiding over Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, a day after unseasonably chilly weather in Rome convinced the recently ailing pontiff to skip Good Friday’s nighttime procession at the Colosseum.

The evening basilica service began in darkness. Then the basilica’s cavernous interior was suddenly bathed in light, reflecting the Christian beliefs that Jesus rose from his death by crucifixion and that goodness can triumph over evil.

The 86-year-old pope is recuperating from bronchitis, which saw him recently hospitalized for three days. On Sunday, tens of thousands of faithful are expected to join the pope in St. Peter’s Square for Easter Mass and to listen to his speech about conflicts in the world at the end of Holy Week.

At the start of the Easter vigil, Francis, who arrived in a wheelchair he uses to cope with knee pain, incised in the wax of a tall candle a cross, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – alpha and omega – and the numerals of this year. Then the lit candle was carried by a cleric up the basilica’s center aisle, past darkened pews filled with faithful. Dozens of cardinals and other prelates followed, each carrying a smaller, lit candle.

“The Church calls upon her sons and daughters, scattered throughout the world, to come together to watch and pray,” Francis said, beginning the service.

The basilica Mass during the vigil of Christianity’s most important day has become an occasion for pontiffs to baptize several adults from around the world. Selected to be baptized at this year’s vigil were eight believers, from Albania, the United States, Nigeria, Italy and Venezuela, the Vatican said.

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