Hell does not exist, Pope Francis has been quoted as saying. If he did say this or something like it, perhaps as part of his wider mission to refashion the Catholic Church as more merciful than perhaps it has seemed in the past, there might another way to interpret it, one more relatable to the direct experience of ordinary people out there.
The experience of people such as myself , people who have battled and (mostly) conquered some pretty serious and rooted personality flaws over many decades, is that hell does indeed exist. I'll leave questions around the afterlife to the theologians. For quotidian toilers such as me, it definitely exists in the here and now. And one message of Easter, the redemption of the Resurrection, is that it can be conquered, defeated, overcome – in the here and now.
What the pope said was radical because hell and heaven have been, and are, seen as future consequences for our present actions. You will go to hell for this – but only when you die. It doesn't take me to point out how this can be abused by the unscrupulous to justify sin without apparent consequence, how it can be abused by authority, by parents, organisations both religious and secular.
It is also a common criticism of Christians that we are merely being 'good' today so we can go to heaven tomorrow. But the power of Christianity and the Resurrection, at least for this insignificant believer, is not what it promises in the afterlife. I'm happy to let God be the judge of that. It is what it empowers in the present.
And for me, this empowerment, the liberation from enslavement to aspects of my personality that have proved so difficult to manage, ultimately came through immersion in the Passion and the Resurrection of Christ. Hell for me was not just what I have experienced in this life as a consequence of my own actions, those of others and of sheer bad luck. It is also what I have done to others, created for others, mainly unintentionally and mainly in the past now but still done nonetheless.
I want and try to be a good person and believe that is the case for most people. Also I am deeply repentant for harm I've done to others. Why I love Easter beyond Christmas, and continue to believe and pray it year on year, is because it offers repeated second chances. It offers mercy.
Yes, hell does exist. But the Resurrection shows me I no longer have to live in it.