The Pope, who led the service, said that “in the night of silence,” in the night of the cross, “which in itself carries the sorrow of man rejected, oppressed, crushed, [. . .] full of evil’s pain, and man’s sin,” there “remains before our eyes the crucifix that appears to mark the final defeat of the one who brought light and the strength of forgiveness,” who “invited us to believe in God’s love for each man”. A “man despised”, a “man of sorrow” stands before us, and yet let us “contemplate him with a deeper gaze”, for death, sin or evil have not won. The luminous sign of love, “God’s vast love”, has “reached out to us and entered the darkest corners of our life.”
“Let us focus on the crucified Jesus,” Benedict XVI said. “Brighten our hearts so that we may follow you on the way of the cross; let the old, sinful man in us die; transform us in new men transformed by your love”.
During his address, the Holy Father also spoke about the persecution of Christians. At the seventh station, where Jesus fell for a second time, the meditation was, “Not only do the ailments of human nature weigh heavy on the wood of our salvation, but so do the adversities of life." As in the past, Jesus today bears the weight of persecution against the Church. Christians are killed in the name of a loveless God, their dignity tainted by “lying lips and arrogant words”. Jesus bore the weight of persecution against Peter, which tried to silence the clear voice “of truth that tests and frees the heart.” As he carried his Cross, Jesus bore the weight of persecution against his servants and disciples, against those who respond to hatred with love, who are meek in the face of violence. Jesus bore the weight of excessively “self-centred love that ends in scorn for God” and tramples upon one’s brother.
The bearers of the cross were chosen with suffering in mind. In addition to Mgr Agostino Vallini, Cardinal Vicar of Rome, the bearers included a Rome family, Armando and Anna Stridacchio and their five children, two Augustinian nuns, a man on a wheelchair, a stretcher-bearer, a sister aide from Unitalsi, two friars from the Custody of the Holy Land, a family from Ethiopia, an Egyptian Franciscan friar and a young Egyptian woman, Samira Sidaros.
The Meditations and prayers read this year were written by Sister Maria Rita Piccione, a nun from the Augustinian Monastery of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome.
She is the third woman to write the Meditations for the Way of the Cross presided by a Pope. The first one was Mother Anna Maria Canopi, a Benedictine abbess, in 1993, followed two years later by Protestant nun Minke de Vries.