Thousands of small candles illuminated St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday night as Pope John Paul II celebrated Easter vigil services to usher in Christianity’s holiest day.
Before thousands of people packing the pews and aisles of Christendom’s biggest church, the pontiff lighted a long white candle to open the service commemorating the tradition of Jesus Christ rising from the dead after his Crucifixion.
The cavernous basilica was dark and silent as the Pope, preceded by cardinals and bishops, carried the candle in a slow procession toward the altar under the Baldacchino, the baroque canopy designed by the 17th-Century sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
After the third chanting of the “Lumen Christi,” or Light of Christ, the basilica slowly lit up as the congregation began lighting small candles to symbolize the “pilgrimage from darkness to light.”
The Pope then placed his candle at the altar, and the lights of the basilica were turned on.
Pope Delivers Homily
After prayers and readings, the Pope delivered a homily stressing the “natural power of water” and its role in the sacrament of baptism.
The Pope then baptized and confirmed 16 people from eight countries: five each from Japan and the Korean peninsula and one each from the United States, France, the Philippines, Iran, Italy and Egypt.
The American was Curtis Devorn Wilkerson, 26, from Joiner, Ark.
“In a wonderful way, your baptism and the wait for the Resurrection of Christ, which will happen tonight, are taking place at the same time,” the Pope said in his homily, delivered in Italian.
The Mass lasted nearly two hours. The Pope was to celebrate an open-air Mass in St. Peter’s Square this morning.
In Britain, another Easter message questioned the view that Jesus Christ had literally risen from the dead.
David Jenkins, the controversial Anglican bishop of the northern English county of Durham, said on a television program the Resurrection in the Gospels was spiritual rather than physical.
Jenkins said he believed the disciples had not seen a corpse coming to life but felt the spiritual presence of Jesus after his Crucifixion and burial.
“I don’t think it means a physical resurrection. It means a spiritual resurrection, a transforming resurrection, a real resurrection,” he said. “To know He is alive in eternity must be more than the encountering of a ghost.”
Jenkins has stirred controversy before, questioning the literal truth of several basic Christian beliefs, including the Virgin Birth.