VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI, carrying a lit candle, ushered in Christianity’s most joyous celebration with an Easter vigil service late Saturday, but voiced fears that mankind is groping in darkness, unable to distinguish good from evil.
Easter for Christians commemorates Christ’s triumph over death with his resurrection following his crucifixion.
“Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies,” Benedict, wearing white robes in a symbol of new life, told the faithful in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica.
Still, Benedict worried in his homily: “The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil.”
“The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general,” the pope said.
“If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other ‘lights,’ that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk,” Benedict added.
The service began dramatically. Except for the twinkle of camera flashes, the basilica was almost pitch-black as the thousands of faithful in pews awaited Benedict’s arrival through the rear entrance. After aides lit the candle, Benedict climbed aboard a raised platform that was wheeled up the long main aisle to the central altar. The wheeled device is used to save wear and tear on the pontiff, who turns 85 on April 16.
Benedict, who has made protection of the environment a theme of his papacy, made a reference to urban pollution in his homily. “Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars in the sky are no longer visible,” he said. “Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?”
“With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify,” Benedict added, saying that faith was the “true enlightenment.”
During the vigil ceremony, Benedict welcomed eight adult converts to the church, pouring water over their bowed heads in baptism.
On Sunday morning, Benedict will lead Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square, then deliver a speech from the central balcony of the basilica, at the end of stamina-testing Holy Week appearances.