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God’s love, not evil, will ultimately triumph, Pope says at Way of the Cross

April 19, 2014 - Pope Francis on Good Friday night presided over a candlelit Way of the Cross at Rome’s landmark Colosseum, with thousands attending in reflections and prayer. For the entire event, the Pope remained silently seated under a canopy atop a hillside overlooking the Colosseum, following the 14 stations of the Way of the Cross, at the end of which he delivered a brief impromptu reflection reminding all that the cross is the symbol of how much evil people are capable of and how much love Jesus had for a sinful humanity. "It was a heavy cross like the night for those who are abandoned, heavy like the death of a loved one and heavy" because it took on all the pain of evil, he said, presiding over the Holy Week event. He said that Jesus shows "that evil will not have the last word," and love, mercy and forgiveness will be victorious. "From the cross we see the monstrosity of mankind when it lets itself be guided by evil. But we also see the immensity of the mercy of God, who doesn't treat us according to our sins, but according to his mercy." Do not forget those who are sick and abandoned with their own cross, but pray "they find the strength of in the trials of the cross, the hope of God's resurrection and love," he said before imparting his blessing.

Each year, the Pope chooses a person or group of people to write the series of prayers and reflections for each of the 14 stations of Way of the Cross, which commemorate Christ's condemnation, his carrying the cross to Golgotha, his crucifixion and his burial. This year the Pope had commissioned Italian Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini of Campobasso-Boiano - a former factory worker, longtime prison chaplain, champion of the unemployed and fiercely outspoken critic of the Italian mafia.

In the meditations, the archbishop, who belongs to Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata, looked at how the wounds and suffering of Christ are found in the wounds and suffering of one's neighbours, family, children and world. By passing a bare wooden cross from one group of people to the next in succession, those chosen to lead the Way of the Cross acted as visible representatives of the often-hidden injustices still wounding the world. Although most stations had multiple representatives, only one at each station physically carried the cross.

For the second station on Jesus taking up his cross, the archbishop criticized the global economic crisis' grave consequences, like job insecurity, unemployment, suicide among owners of failing businesses and corruption. Symbolically, a labourer and a business leader carried the cross, "which weighs upon the world of labour, the injustice shouldered by workers," said the reflection, which was followed by a call for people to respect political life and resolve problems together. On the fourth station on Jesus meeting his mother, two former addicts carried the cross as people meditated on the tears mothers shed for their children sent off to war, dying of cancer from toxic wastelands or lost in "the abyss of drugs or alcohol, especially on Saturday nights."

For the fifth station on Jesus being helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross, two people living on the street carried the cross as a reflection was read about "finding God in everyone" and sharing "our bread and labour" with others. For the eighth station on Jesus meeting the women of Jerusalem, two women carried the cross, as the meditation deplored domestic violence. "Let us weep for those men who vent on women all their pent-up violence" and to weep for women who are "enslaved by fear and exploitation," the reflection read. But compassion is not enough, Archbishop Bregantini wrote: "Jesus demands more." Follow his example of offering reassurance and support "so that our children may grow in dignity and hope."

The archbishop's meditations had equally strong words about the sexual abuse of children and its cover-up. Two children carried the cross for the 10th station where Jesus is stripped of his garments. The reflection evoked the utter humiliation of Jesus being stripped naked, "covered only by the blood which flowed from his gaping wounds." "In Jesus, innocent, stripped and tortured, we see the outraged dignity of all the innocent, especially the little ones," the meditation read. A family held the cross for a reflection on the need for kindness and shared suffering; two older people carried the cross during a reflection on how age and infirmity can become "a great school of wisdom, an encounter with God who is ever patient." Two Franciscan friars from the Holy Land carried the cross during a meditation on Christ emerging from the fear of death as a sign how forgiveness "renews, heals, transforms and comforts" and ends wars.


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