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Pope Presides Over Trimmed Easter Vigil

Vatican City — Pope Francis celebrated a trimmed back Easter Vigil service yesterday after having reached out to Muslims and women during a Holy Week in which he began to put his mark on the Catholic Church.

Francis processed into a darkened and silent St. Peter’s Basilica at the start of the service, in which the faithful recall the period between Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday.

One of the most dramatic moments of the Easter Vigil service that usually follows — when the pope would share the light of his candle with others until the entire basilica twinkled — was shortened this year as were some of the Old Testament readings.

The Vatican has said these provisions were in keeping with Francis’ aim to not have his Masses go on too long. The Easter Vigil service under Benedict XVI would typically run nearly three hours. The new pope has made clear he prefers his Masses short and to the point: he was even caught checking his watch during his March 19 installation ceremony. Yesterday was no different: The vigil ended just shy of 2.5 hours.

A trimmed-back vigil — and one that started earlier than usual — was just one of the novelties of this Holy Week under an Argentine Jesuit pope who just two weeks ago stunned the world by emerging from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica after his election with a simple “Brothers and sisters, good evening.”

He riled traditionalists but endeared himself to women and liberals by washing and kissing the feet of two young girls during a Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center in Rome, when the rite usually calls for only men to participate. A day later, Francis reached out with friendship to “Muslim brothers and sisters” during a Good Friday procession dedicated to the suffering of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle East.

In his homily yesterday, Francis kept his message simple and tied to the liturgical readings, recalling how Jesus’ disciples found his tomb empty a day after his death and were surprised and confused.