Pope Francis presided over the solemn Easter Vigil service amid mounting Vatican concern for modern-day Christian martyrs whose deaths have dominated this Easter season.
Francis walked in the dark down an utterly silent St Peter’s Basilica at the start of the vigil Mass, which precedes the joyous celebration on Easter Sunday commemorating Christ’s resurrection after his crucifixion.
In his homily, Francis said the Easter mystery requires the faithful to seek an answer “to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity, and our very existence”.
During the late-night service, 10 people from Italy, Portugal, Albania, Kenya and Cambodia were being baptised.
On Friday, during the Via Crucis procession at Rome’s Colosseum, Francis denounced the “complicit silence” of the international community before the massacres of Christians in many parts of the world by Islamic extremists.
The latest was the Kenya university attack by al Qaida-affiliated Somali militants that left nearly 150 people dead, many of them Christians.
Francis has voiced increasing alarm about the attacks, which have led Christians to abandon communities in the Middle East that have existed since Jesus’ time.
He is likely to refer to those concerns during his Easter Sunday “Urbi et Orbi” message.