Pope pleads for easing of ‘severe restrictions’ on Catholics attending Mass

Pope pleads for easing of ‘severe restrictions’ on Catholics attending Mass Pope Francis delivers his Easter blessing 'urbi et orbi' (to the city and the world) after celebrating Easter Mass in St Peter's Basilica at the V. Photo: CNS/Filippo Monteforte, Reuters pool.

Pope Francis has used his traditional Easter message to pray for an end to restrictions in some parts of the world that have banned Catholics from worshipping together at the most important feast in the Christian calendar.

The Pope’s prayer – delivered in his urbi et orbi address from St Peter’s Basilica – comes as Catholics in the Irish Republic face some of the most draconian restrictions in Europe.

Last weekend The Irish Catholic revealed that the Government had made it illegal for Catholics to leave their homes to attend Mass. A priest who celebrates Mass where parishioners may attend is also criminalised under the coalition’s law. This is despite the fact that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly claimed no such penal offences are in place.

Speaking in St Peter’s this morning (Easter Sunday), Pope Francis said: “once again this year, in various places many Christians have celebrated Easter under severe restrictions and, at times, without being able to attend liturgical celebrations.

“We pray that those restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely,” the Pontiff said.

As is customary, Pope Francis did not preach at the Easter morning Mass, which featured the chanting of the Gospel in both Latin and Greek.

The pope gave his Easter blessing urbi et orbi (to the city and the world) standing inside St Peters Basilica rather than from the balcony overlooking a full St Peters Square.

“The Easter message does not offer us a mirage or reveal a magic formula,” the Pope said before giving the blessing. “It does not point to an escape from the difficult situation we are experiencing. The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor.”

The Pope offered prayers for the sick and those who have died of Covid-19 and for the doctors and nurses who have made “valiant efforts” to care for the pandemic’s victims.

And he had special words of Easter hope for young people struggling in isolation from their friends. “Experiencing real human relationships, not just virtual relationships, is something that everyone needs, especially at an age when a person’s character and personality is being formed,” he said.

“I express my closeness to young people throughout the world and, in these days, especially to the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully, in the knowledge that hatred can be dispelled only by love,” he said.

Pope Francis prayed for many places in the world where the need to fight the pandemic has not silenced the weapons of war and violence.

“This is scandalous,” he said. “Armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened.”

The Gospel witnesses to the Resurrection, he said, “report an important detail: the risen Jesus bears the marks of the wounds in his hands, feet and side. These wounds are the everlasting seal of his love for us. All those who experience a painful trial in body or spirit can find refuge in these wounds and, through them, receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint.”

“May the light of the risen Jesus be a source of rebirth for migrants fleeing from war and extreme poverty,” he prayed. “Let us recognise in their faces the marred and suffering face of the Lord as he walked the path to Calvary. May they never lack concrete signs of solidarity and human fraternity, a pledge of the victory of life over death that we celebrate on this day.”

Calling again for a fair and speedy distribution of coronavirus vaccines, the Pope said that “in embracing the cross, Jesus bestowed meaning on our sufferings, and now we pray that the benefits of that healing will spread throughout the world.”