- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2013

A standing-room-only crowd joined Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, in celebrating Easter Mass, where he explained how Pope Francis had the honor of leading the 2,000-year-old tradition for 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

The heady aroma of incense hung above the thousands of worshippers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, many of them dressed in pastel spring colors during a gray, rainy day. Parents muffled the cries of babies, and children likely full of chocolate candy from their Easter baskets fidgeted in their seats while Cardinal Wuerl explained how a 76-year-old Argentine Jesuit would connect the Catholic Church to the belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected after his death by crucifixion.

“The election of the pope, what does that have to do with Easter?” the cardinal asked. “The answer is everything.”“Because of the unbroken line from Peter through centuries to John Paul II to Benedict XVI and now to Francis, we have heard the same message,” Cardinal Wuerl said, referring to the discovery by Jesus‘ disciples that their mentor had risen from his grave. “We can say, ‘I have heard the voice of witnesses, I have heard the testimony of those who saw the risen Lord.’”

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected by the College of Cardinals on March 13 to take the place of Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in mid-February. Among the electors was Cardinal Wuerl, who stayed in Rome for several weeks for the election and began his homily on Sunday by saying, “It’s good to be back.”

Cardinal Wuerl told the packed basilica, “You and I can say we are part of this family, this living tradition.”

The Catholic Mass is perhaps the best-known Easter service in the District, but thousands gathered for the 35th annual Easter Sunrise Service at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. The Virginia-based interdenominational Capital Church held the popular service, which included sermons and choir performances, at 6:30 a.m.

In Vatican City, where a quarter-million people swarmed to the pope’s first Easter Sunday Mass, the message was one of world peace.

“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace,” Francis said in his message to the world. “Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.”The Mass marked the end of a week in which the new pope took many by surprise. He broke from traditionally long services and washed and kissed the feet of two women during a Holy Thursday ritual normally reserved only for men.

Straying from tradition didn’t seem to bother worshippers in the District, and some who attended the Easter service said they were interested in what the new papacy could bring.

“I think everyone has rights they are born to have, that they deserve,” D.C. resident Bernadette Tolson said. “I’d like to hear him speak on gay marriage.”

Carolina Baker, a Catholic University student who attended Mass with her parents, Doug and Magda Baker, said she was excited to see a pope from Latin America because she is half Hispanic.

“That’s always good to know,” Ms. Baker said, adding that Pope Francis‘ willingness to stop during a procession to comfort a disabled man was something “anyone should be willing to do.”

“He’s like a Holy grandpa,” Mr. Baker said between puffs on his post-service cigar. “The cardinals did a good job of picking the right guy at the right time.”

Virginia Nagy, of Fairfax, lauded the cardinal’s modesty when talking about the pope.

“He did not use the word ‘I,’” she said, despite Cardinal Wuerl’s role in electing the pope. “I paid attention to that. I think he paid attention to that, too.”