VATICAN - Pope Francis, leading an Easter vigil service scaled down due to COVID-19, said on Saturday he hoped the dark times of the pandemic would end and that people could rediscover "the grace of everyday life".
This year has been the second consecutive Easter that all papal services are being attended by only about 200 people in a secondary altar of St. Peter's Basilica instead of the nearly 10,000 that the largest church in Christendom can hold.
The service began two hours earlier than usual so that participants could get home before a 10 p.m. curfew in Rome, which, like the rest of Italy, is under tough lockdown restrictions during the Easter weekend.
At the start of the service, the basilica was in darkness except for the flames from candles held by participants to signify the darkness in the world before Jesus. As the pope, cardinals and bishops processed to the altar and a cantor chanted three times, the basilica's lights were turned on.
In his homily, Francis, marking the ninth Easter season of his pontificate, said the festival brought with it the hope for renewal on a personal as well as a global level.
"It is always possible to begin anew because there is a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures," Francis said.
"In these dark months of the pandemic, let us listen to the Risen Lord as he invites us to begin anew and never lose hope."
He said that just as Jesus brought his message "to those struggling to live from day to day", people today should care for those most in need on the fringes of society.
On Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, the pope will deliver his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message.