03/31/2018, 13.07
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Easter and the hell of Holy Saturday

by Bernardo Cervellera

Hell is not inhabited by devils, pitchforks and eternal flames: it is a grey, colourless, dismal place; a sort of lunar landscape without motion or light. It is the place that Christ visits, carrying his tormented body out of love as a sign of God's extreme love towards the shrivelled shadows that have told him no. Hell in the West is characterized by indifference. Hell in Asia is the immovability of painful situations, which remain unresolved because of the evil of the powerful and of men. In Iraq and China, signs of compassion and prayer are the announcement of the Resurrection.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In the Catholic liturgy, the silence of Holy Saturday is part of the paschal mystery. Many commentators and theologians have reflected on the blood spilled on Good Friday, or the dazzling light of Easter morning. But this period of silence, of darkness, of waiting has received little attention. Yet the Creed of Christians affirms that Jesus, on Holy Saturday, before rising again, "descended to the underworld".

To my knowledge, only the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, solicited by the mystical visions of Adrienne Von Speyr, devoted time and study to this mystery. First of all to this "underworld". The hell described by Von Speyr is not inhabited by devils, pitchforks and eternal flames: indeed it is a grey, colourless, dismal place; a sort of lunar landscape without motion or light. It is the following: the place of "no" to God means that the vitality of creation - with its multifaceted aspects - has also been extinguished; in its place there is a life that is similar to the immobility of death, without the flicker of a feeling, without the start of a surprise: an eternal senselessness. Precisely this hell is the place that Christ comes to visit after his death, bringing with him his body tormented for love, his wounds the fruit of a forgiven violence, to offer those who have rejected God on earth, his gesture of ultimate love, to the end, because the world of arid shadows should recognize that Truth and Love of God are the meaning of life and death.

In the silence and apparent stillness of Holy Saturday, there is a struggle between the loving Christ and grey despair, which the Lord overcomes Easter morning, bringing back the flow of life where there was fatigue and abandonment.

The mystery of Holy Saturday is very eloquent, indeed it is perhaps the most fitting mystery for the world today.

In the Western world, which tries to say "no" to God, there is already a hell on earth: no matter how you can surround yourself with lights, drugs, colours, empty laughter, the signs of destruction multiply: the singer who commits suicide at the height of success; the young who throw themselves away; the so-called "loves" that end in division and tragedy. Indifference towards the other, those close by and those who are distant is part of this hell because the greyness of despair reveals us to ourselves and feels no compassion for anyone.

If we look at Asia, Holy Saturday is this "middle" earth, in which every solution comes late. In China, for example, there are no blood martyrs, but persecution is made of isolation, suffocating control, prohibitions, bans on speaking of God to young people. And this even if we applaud the famous and "imminent" dialogue between Beijing and the Vatican, which are not imminent: everything seems immobile and on the verge of death.

In Iraq, after the victory over ISIS in Mosul, many refugees are still unable to return to their homes because of destruction, landmines, insecurity, while ethnic-political groups try to strengthen themselves against each other . Even here the hell of indifference leaves no light of hope.

And yet, in the silence of Holy Saturday, something, indeed Someone moves, and comes to visit our hell. Our campaign "Adopt a Christian from Mosul", which we continue to keep active, bringing food, clothing, warmth to thousands of refugees, is not the definitive solution to the problems of Iraq, but it has a disarming and powerful force of Christ’s loving wounds in the midst of desperate shadows. Likewise in China, the memory of the suffering of the kidnapped bishops, of the faithful unable to meet, aid to help seminarians and laity study, is a sign that even in hell there is a trickle of living water that brings relief.

We could list other examples for India, for the Korean peninsula, for the Holy Land. In any case, the victory of Christ, conquered in hell, assures us that God is at work even in apparent immobility. And we, in our smallness, with compassion and prayer, can be signs of the resurrection. Happy Easter.

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”