Easter Vatican Pope Francis
Pope Francis holds a candle as he arrives to leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's basilica at the VaticanStefano Rellandini/Reuters

Pope Francis has called for dispelling darkness and raising hope in his Easter message following a bleak week in the wake of the Brussels attacks. The pontiff called on Catholics not to let darkness and fear "imprison" them.

As he led the 1.2-billion-strong Roman Catholics into the Easter festivities from a heavily fortified Vatican, Pope Francis said: "Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control our hearts."

His Easter address followed his Good Friday speech in which he condemned the Brussels terror attacks. He also washed and kissed the feet of refugees belonging to other communities on the eve of Good Friday.

As part of the Easter vigil, he entered a darkened St Peter's Basilica with a single candle, but as he reached the altar there was a symbolic show of light, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though scores of people are thought to have cancelled their trips to Rome because of the security situation, Pope Francis addressed a packed audience.

"We see and will continue to see problems both inside and out. They will always be there," he said. "May the Lord free us ... from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the centre of our lives."

This is Pope Francis's fourth Easter since his election in 2013. He is also set to baptise 12 adults from China, South Korea and elsewhere, as part of the Easter celebrations during the lengthy vigil service, which ends at midnight. Later, the pontiff will also preside over Easter Sunday Mass and offer his annual blessings.

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