ROME – Pope Francis visited a cemetery in Rome last Friday in observance of the Roman Catholic holiday All Saints’ Day to pray for the dead and bless the graves of the departed.
The occasion marked 20 years since a pope had visited a Roman cemetery for All Saints’ Day, and according to reports, Francis states that he plans to make his visit a tradition during his tenure.
He celebrated mass on Friday morning, delivering a message to all gathered, and asking the dead saints to pray for those who remain.
“The saints who stand before the face of the Lord, pray for us, for this our city, and for the whole world, that everywhere the peace of Christ may shine brightly,” he said. “He is our peace and eternal life.”
Francis also offered a prayer himself for the dead, which was followed by a “blessing of the graves,” according to the Italian publication RomaSette.
Francis had visited the tomb of John Paul II the day before, located inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and prayed silently. He also went to pay his respects to John XXIII and St. Pius X.
On Saturday, Francis visited the Vatican Grotto, where a number of other popes are buried, and engaged in a private time of prayer for his predecessors. He is expected to observe mass today in memory of the Catholic bishops and cardinals that have died over the past year.
But some are expressing concern over the Pope’s observances, which they state are not found in Scripture.
“Prayers for the dead are useless and unbiblical because it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel told Christian News Network, citing Hebrews 11:27. “In other words, when people die they are immediately transferred to Heaven or Hell.”
“The determining factor is their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ at the moment of death,” he continued. “Was He their merciful Savior who forgave their sins, or a righteous Judge who condemned them to the eternal lake of fire?”
Gendron said that for this same reason, attempting to bless a grave is pointless and unavailing, and stated that the Pope has no power to bless anyone. Gendron noted that there have been concerning practices surrounding All Saints’ Day for hundreds of years, and that these practices were among the factors that sparked the Protestant Reformation.
“The Catholic Church has been venerating the relics (bone fragments) of saints on All Saints’ Day for over 500 years,” he explained. “This is why Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the door of the Castle Church on Oct. 31, the day before All Saints’ Day. He knew Catholics would be seeking indulgences for the dead by going into the church to venerate over 1900 relics.”
“God’s word says, ‘No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him, for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever,'” Gendron added, pointing to Psalm 49:7-8.
Last month, for the Roman Catholic observance of Marian Day, Francis entrusted the world to Mary in front of 100,000 who gathered in St. Peter’s Square. He delivered a message adjacent to the “Our Lady of Fatima” statute, which had been transported from Lisbon. Video footage of the occasion shows Francis kissing the statue following its arrival at the square.
“Accept with the benevolence of a mother this act of entrustment that we make in faith today, before this your image, beloved to us,” he stated. “We are confident that each of us is precious in your sight. Guard our lives in your arms, bless and strengthen every desire for goodness.”
Photo: Tania Rego/Agencia Brasil