In his Good Friday ceremony of the Stations of the Cross, Pope Francis pulled no punches in denouncing the global persecution of Christians, who are still “killed, burned alive, throats slit, and beheaded with barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.”
The Stations of the Cross or “Via Crucis” is an ancient Christian devotion recalling a series of moments in the passion of Jesus, such as His carrying the cross, His meeting with the holy women and His crucifixion itself. The ceremony was held in the iconic setting of the Roman Coliseum, a symbol for many of the earliest Christian persecutions and martyrdom.
The Pope’s words came during an extended litany, relating how the cross of Christ is still present in the world today. He spoke of the cross as a paradox, symbolizing both “divine love and human injustice,” “a sign of obedience and an emblem of betrayal.”
“O Cross of Christ,” Francis prayed, “today we see you again erected in our sisters and our brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit, and beheaded with barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.”
Francis didn’t hesitate to put a name to the perpetrators of these atrocities, carried out in the name of God and religion.
“O Cross of Christ, we still see you today in the fanaticism and terrorism of the followers of a religion who profane the name of God and use it to justify their unprecedented violence,” in evident reference to the Islamist terrorists behind much Christian persecution today.
According to a report from the Rome police, participation in the event was higher than expected, and thousands of people filled the entire area inside and around the Coliseum to overflowing. Many faithful attended the ceremony from nearby streets, and the prayers were broadcast over loudspeakers.
Despite heightened security, checks at gates were relatively fluid and smooth.
During his prayer, Pope Francis also took aim at secular and atheist agitators who seek to remove the name of God from public discourse.
“O Cross of Christ, we still see you today in those who want to remove you from public places and exclude you from public life, in the name of some secular paganism or even in the name of the equality that you yourself taught us.”
The Pope said that the Cross of Christ is still visible in the elderly abandoned by their families, in underfed children and the disabled who are “discarded by our selfish and hypocritical society.”
He also had a word for migrants, declaring that the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas have become “an insatiable cemetery, the image of our callous, numbed conscience,” referring to the many who have died at sea, trying to cross over to Europe on overfilled and unseaworthy crafts.
“O Cross of Christ,” he said, “today we still see you in the faces of children, women and men, exhausted and frightened fleeing wars and violence and often finding only death and so many Pilates with washed hands,” an image he has referred to several times this week.
The next liturgical event for Pope Francis will be the Easter Vigil celebrating Christ’s resurrection, which will be held in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Saturday night at 8:30pm.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome