31 Mar 2013

Pope Francis leads Easter celebrations

10:02 pm on 31 March 2013

Pope Francis is celebrating his first Easter Sunday since his election, with an open-air Mass in St Peter's Square at the Vatican.

He will then deliver a speech to Rome and to the world - the "Urbi et Orbi" address - from a balcony of St Peter's.

The BBC reports that Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar.

At an Easter vigil Mass in St Peter's, the Pope appealed to non-believers and lapsed Catholics to "step forward" towards God.

"Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward," Pope Francis said.

"He will receive you with open arms."

At the start of the service, the basilica was kept dark to signify Jesus' tomb before what Christians believe was his resurrection. The Pope and the congregation held candles.

The service was shorter than usual, which the Vatican said was in line with Pope Francis' preference for shorter Masses.