The archbishop of Washington urged Catholics on Easter Sunday to boldly rejuvenate their faith and share it with others.
“We are not just bystanders. We’re invited to share in Christ’s new life,” Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said before an overflow congregation at the historic Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on Rhode Island Avenue in Northwest.
Cardinal Wuerl said many Christians today are indeed like Jesus’ followers, who looked into his empty tomb on Easter morning and wholeheartedly believed in the possibility of healing, rebirth and rejuvenation. However, too many are now “too busy to even look at the tomb, [much less] notice the tomb is empty.”
President Obama and his family attended services just blocks away, in a church founded in 1863 by freed slaves.
The first family entered Shiloh Baptist Church in the Shaw neighborhood while members of a choir dressed in black, white and gold sang “Total Praise.”
Mr. Obama shook a few hands and hugged members of the congregation as he and his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, walked to a second-row pew.
The church’s pastor, Dr. Wallace Charles Smith, delivered a sermon titled “The Resurrection Changes Everything,” drawn from the book of John, Chapters 15 and 16. Mr. Obama said last week his faith has deepened during his two years in the White House.
Cardinal Wuerl said many people over roughly the past 2,000 years have figuratively passed the empty tomb, saying with cynicism and doubt that “death is forever.”
“But you have to be strong enough to be able to say Jesus Christ has risen from the dead,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
As hundreds listened shoulder-to-shoulder in the pews or stood in the aisles of the church on a warm, humid morning, the cardinal focused largely on Scripture, while Pope Benedict XVI in Rome prayed for peace in North Africa, including Libya.
Every year people must revisit the stories of Jesus’ death and Resurrection “because we need to hear once again that message,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
“Not only has Christ risen from the dead,” the cardinal said. “He is risen in each of us.”
Cardinal Wuerl told members of the congregation they are witnesses to the belief in life over death and must spread the message as the Catholic Church has done.
“What Easter says to us is what the Church has witnessed for years,” he said.
After leading the audience in the renewal of their baptismal vows, Cardinal Wuerl asked each person to share his or her faith in Jesus’ Resurrection with at least one person on Easter.
Dan Lincoln, a Foggy Bottom resident and St. Matthew’s usher, said he understood Cardinal Wuerl’s warning of distraction because he sees people in his community “so preoccupied with their cellphones and priorities, they don’t even know where they’re going.”
Built in the shape of a Latin cross, the 115-year-old church can hold 1,000 people under its mosaic ceiling. It is the site of the October Red Mass, held specifically to pray for the new term of the U.S. Supreme Court. President Kennedy’s funeral was held there in 1963, and in 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the church during his visit to the United States.
Cardinal Wuerl was scheduled to also celebrate a noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.