NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Christians around the world are celebrating Easter, the holiest day of the year.

A crowd filled St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Sunday morning, with all eyes and ears on Pope Francis as he led Easter Mass.

PHOTOS: Easter Celebrations Around The World

Sunday marks the end of a 40-day lent period of reflection. It’s a time to celebrate with family and in prayer.

The pope led a candlelit ceremony at the Vatican to symbolize darkness after the crucifixion of Christ, with flames serving as a reflection of resurrection. His homily called on the faithful not to look away from the poor, immigrant, elderly and lonely.

PHOTOS: Annual NYC Easter Bonnet Parade 

Here in New York, the faithful filled Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown for Easter Mass with Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

It was shoulder to shoulder in the pews. All eyes were on Dolan.

“The word of the morning dear friends is life, light, newness, freshness, second chances, hope, mercy goodness, it is spring not winter,” he said to his congregation of faithful followers. “It is a rebirth, not a funeral.”

His words were projected behind cathedral doors, guarded by heavily armed officers. Parishioners were led in prayer for victims of recent terror attacks.

“I prayed specifically for those who literally took their lives in their own hands, risked their lives to worship this morning,” Dolan said.

The cardinal told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb why Easter should really be considered the biggest holiday on the Christian calendar.

“You know, let’s face it — I think in reality Christmas is a greater feast for Christians,” he said. “Theologically, spiritually it should be Easter. If Jesus was only born and didn’t die on the cross to save us, it would have been a great birthday. But he came, he was born, he was incarnate precisely to be our savior, to die on the cross, to save us from our sins. So that was the goal of his life.” 

A heightened police presence outside the cathedral did not go unnoticed to Christians on Sunday nor during the past week of ceremonies. But fear of threat has deterred few from showing their faith.

“No fear, no fear. You can’t let that stop you from celebrating life, celebrating Easter,” one parishioner said.

“Happy to see it. It doesn’t bother me,” a tourist from Boston said. “I know it does bother some people, but it’s for the good of the people that they’re here.”

Vickie Fennel, from Lewisberg, Pennsylvania, told WCBS 880’s Myles Miller she’s been coming to the church for 30 years.

“It just makes me feel good to gather with New Yorkers, because we love New York,” she said.

Those Easter celebrations also include the annual Easter bonnet parade, where fashionistas can show off their most extravagant, often handmade, Easter hats.

One man from Bellerose was there with a friend, wearing gray morning coats, pink shirts, pink fedoras and pink shoes. They told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern this is their second year.

“We were so popular, making people smile, making people happy, we just thought we’d do it again,” he said.

“I think this is wonderful, colorful, joyous, exciting, and it’s a beautiful day to have this parade,” a spectator from Hoboken told Stern.

The sea of outlandish hats in every color made its way down 5th Avenue. Many of the would-be fashionistas come back every year, investing hours into one-upping last year’s bonnet.

“Come on, look at the attention you get,” reveler Ray Stankus told CBS2’s Ali Bauman. “We’re not movie stars, we’re just New Yorkers on New York’s red carpet.”


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