Holding a single candle, Francis walked down the basilica's center aisle, symbolizing the darkness that fell after Jesus' crucifixion on Good Friday. When Francis reached the altar, the basilica's floodlights turned on, symbolizing the light of Christ's resurrection.
In his homily, Francis recalled the biblical scene of two women approaching Jesus' tomb and said their desolation over his death can be seen every day in the faces of women whose children have been victims of poverty, exploitation and injustice.
"We can also see the faces of those who are greeted with contempt because they are immigrants, deprived of country, house and family," he said.
Others are victims of paralyzed bureaucracies and corruption "that strips them of their rights and shatters their dreams," the pope said, echoing two themes he has emphasized in his four-year papacy: caring for migrants and denouncing corruption.
"In their grief, these two women reflect the faces of all those who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified."
But rather than remain resigned to such a fate, Francis urged the faithful to have hope, as symbolized by Christ's resurrection. He called for Catholics to "break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others."
Saturday's late-night service included the baptism of 11 people, including two children and one woman from China. It came just hours after Francis presided over the evocative torch-lit Good Friday procession at Rome's Colosseum, where he repeatedly denounced the "shame" of the blood spilled by innocent children, women and migrants in the world's conflicts, shipwrecks and other tragedies.
On Sunday, Francis will celebrate the joyful Easter Mass in a flower-filled St. Peter's Square. Thousands of people are expected to brave street closures, metal detectors and other security measures to reach the square for the Mass.