Thousands of people with candles filled the area surrounding the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday evening, where Pope Francis presided over the traditional dramatic ritual of the Way of the Cross, a meditation on the crucifixion of Jesus.
The pope sat under a red canopy on Rome’s Palatine Hill while representatives from all over the world processed around the Colosseum as they alternated carrying a wood cross. At each of the fourteen “stations” of the cross, the faithful meditated upon an aspect of Jesus’ suffering, from the time he was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, through his struggle carrying his cross, his crucifixion, and, finally, his burial in a tomb sealed by a large stone.
According to Vatican Radio, the meditations for the Way of the Cross were written by young people from Lebanon, and many of their themes were inspired by the “plight of the minority Christian communities living in the Middle East.” The meditations were written under the guidance of the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Rai, who was invited to write them following Pope Benedict’s pastoral visit to Lebanon last year.
Tony El Chayeb, who wrote one of the meditations, said he was “very excited and grateful” for the opportunity. He said he believes the Way of the Cross “is for every Christian” because without the Cross, “there is no Resurrection.”
Several of the young people spoke of the pain and suffering facing Christians in Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East. They believe their main challenge is to continue existing as a community at a time when so many Christians are emigrating to other countries.
Two young people from Brazil were among those who carried the wood cross in the procession around the Colosseum. Their participation was a sign that their nation will be the site of the next World Youth Day in July of this year, which Pope Francis will attend.
At the end of the celebration of the Way of the Cross, Pope Francis addressed the crowds but said that he did not “wish to add too many words,” because “one word should suffice this evening, that is the Cross itself.”
Francis said that as the Cross is “a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness… it also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us.”
The pope continued, “Remember this: God, in judging us, loves us. If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by him, but by my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves.”
Francis said that “the word of the Cross is also the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil, the evil that continues to work in us and around us. Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the Cross upon themselves as Jesus did.”
Reaching out to those Christians who are being persecuted in the Middle East, Pope Francis said:
This evening we have heard the witness given by our Lebanese brothers and sisters: they composed these beautiful prayers and meditations. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to them for this work and for the witness they offer. We were able to see this when Pope Benedict visited Lebanon: we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others. That occasion was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world: a sign of hope. We now continue this Via Crucis [Way of the Cross] in our daily lives.