Rome (AsiaNews) - "Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ, a word which is love, mercy, and forgiveness. It also expresses a judgment, namely that 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 my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves."
For Pope Francis, this is his first Way of the Cross (Via Crucis). Since the afternoon, tens of thousands of people have been waiting for this near the Colosseum, with flags and thousands of candles. The succession of periods of silence and prayer catches the imagination, finding an echo when the pope said, "I do not wish to add too many words. One word should suffice this evening, that of the Cross itself.
The Pope opted not to carry the cross. Instead, he followed the ceremony from the nearby Palatine Hill in front of the Colosseum as his predecessors have done in recent years. Card Agostino Vallini, the pope's vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, carried the cross at the first and last stations, two Chinese seminarians, two Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, two nuns from Africa and two from Lebanon, two young men from Brazil and two families from Italy and India as well as a disabled person carried the cross at the others.
This year, a group of young Catholics from Lebanon wrote the meditations, guided by the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Rai. Two of them also carried torches lighting the way.
"This evening," the pope said, "we have heard the witness given by our Lebanese brothers and sisters. They wrote 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 tie of communion that binds Christians 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."
Echoing this thought, the meditation at the seventh station said, "Enlighten our minds so that they recognize, despite 'human and religious differences,' that 'a ray of truth shines on all men and women', called to walk together-with respect for religious freedom-towards the truth that is in God alone. Thus, the different religions can join one another in service to the common good and contribute to the development of each person and the building of society."
The meditations did not address only the suffering of Christians in the Middle East but also underscored the fate of women and their all too often violated dignity, and touched the destiny of the victims of war and violence, of people displaced by conflict and youth victimised by "artificial" paradises, as well as "all those who have lost hope".
"Dear brothers and sisters," the pope said, "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. [. . .] Let us walk together along the Way of the Cross and let us do so carrying in our hearts this word of love and forgiveness. Let us go forward waiting for the Resurrection of Jesus, who loves us a lot, who is all love."