Rome (AsiaNews) - "In you (Jesus), divine love, we see today our persecuted brothers, beheaded and crucified because of their faith in you, before our eyes and often with our complicit silence," Pope Francis said after the traditional Via Crucis procession.
The persecution of Christians in the world and the "complicit silence" that comes with it were once more at the core of the Holy Father’s prayer. He recited it at the end of the Way of the Cross, which traditionally ends at Rome's ancient Coliseum, dedicating it to the idea of protection for suffering Christians, who were directly represented by those who carried the Cross, people from countries like Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, China and the Holy Land.
At the Second Station, when Jesus is stripped of his clothes, the meditation said, “In our day too, men and women are imprisoned, condemned and even slaughtered for the simple reason that they are believers or engaged in promoting justice and peace. They are not ashamed of your cross. For us they are wonderful examples to imitate.”
Words from the spiritual testament of Shahbaz Bhatti, slain on March 2 2011, were also read. “In the light of this testimony, let us pray: Lord Jesus, you strengthen inwardly all who suffer persecution. May the fundamental right of religious freedom spread throughout the world. We thank you for all those who, like ‘angels’, give marvellous signs of your coming Kingdom.”
“We will also consider some of those challenging situations which – for better or worse – are typical of our own time,” said Mgr Renato Corti, bishop emeritus of Novara, who wrote the 14 Meditations for tonight’s Way of the Cross, thus indirectly linking them to yesterday’s massacre of Christian students in Kenya. Francis himself described their death as an "immense and tragic loss of life".
At the end of the procession, the pontiff highlighted the passion of Jesus. In it, "we see our daily betrayals and our usual infidelities. In your innocence, immaculate Lamb, we see our guilt. In your slapped, spat upon, and disfigured face, we see the brutality of our sins. In the cruelty of your Passion, we see the cruelty of our hearts and our actions.
“In your feeling abandoned, we see all those who were abandoned by their families, by society, [or received no] consideration and solidarity. In your sacrificed, ripped and torn apart body, we see the bodies of our brothers and sisters abandoned along the roads, disfigured by our negligence and indifference. In your thirst, Lord, we see the thirst of your merciful Father who, in you, sought to embrace, forgive and save all humanity.
“In you, divine love, we see today our persecuted brothers, beheaded and crucified for their faith in you, before our eyes, and often with our silent complicity. Lord, impress upon our hearts feelings of faith, hope, charity, and sorrow for our sins and bring us to repent for our sins that crucified you.
“Make us turn verbal conversion into a conversion of life and works. Make us vividly remember your disfigured face so that we never forget the terrible price you paid to free us. Crucified Jesus, strengthen in us the faith, that it may not collapse in the face of temptations.
“Revive in us the hope that does not get lost following the seductions of the world. Maintain in us the charity that is not fooled by corruption and worldliness. Teach us that the Cross is the path to resurrection. Teach us that Good Friday is the road to the Easter of light."
At the various stations, the Holy Father had touched upon such issues, like at the Fifth Station, when two sick people and a stretcher-bearer carried the Cross. “Let us consider it a great grace that there are still Cyreneans in our midst. They carry other people’s crosses. They do it with perseverance. They are motivated by love. They put into practice Saint Paul’s command: “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). In this way, they protect their brothers and sisters.”
At the seventh station, two Syrians carried the Cross. “Jesus, how much pain lies deep within those many souls racked by loneliness, abandonment, indifference, illness, or the loss of a dear one! Boundless too are the sufferings of those trapped in painful situations, those who hear only lying and hateful words; those who encounter hearts of stone which cause tears and lead to despair.
And at the tenth station, when those who carried the Cross were from China, he said, “Yet the love with which you protect each creature also makes us think of appalling realities: human trafficking, child-soldiers, slave labour, children and adolescents robbed of their souls, wounded in their deepest being, barbarously violated.
“You urge us in humility to beg forgiveness of all who have suffered these atrocities, and to pray that the conscience of those who darkened their lives will at last be stirred. In your presence, Jesus, we renew our resolve to ‘overcome evil with good’.”