On Good Friday at the Coliseum, Pope Francis prays for the persecuted

“The Cross of Christ is a symbol of divine love and of human injustice,” Pope Francis said at the end of the Way of the Cross at Rome’s Coliseum on Good Friday. Reading a prayer-like homily, he linked that cross to the sufferings of men, women and children across the globe today because of persecution, migration, fundamentalism and terrorism, the arms trade, theft, corruption, child abuse and much else.

Thousands of Romans and pilgrims stood, holding lighted candles, and applauded warmly when Francis finished speaking on Good Friday evening, March 25. The hour-long ceremony, at which Syrians, Chinese and Africans from the Central African Republic carried the cross, took place under extraordinary security measures and police controls, caused by fear of a terrorist attack similar to the ones that hit Paris and Bruxelles over the past year.

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Francis, who had earlier presided at the solemn celebration in St Peter’s Basilica of the passion and death of Jesus, followed the ceremony from under a canopy on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Coliseum. At the end, he read his prayer-homily (full text below) in which he highlighted the different forms the cross with its sufferings takes in today’s world, in all of which Jesus re-lives his passion.

“We see” the cross of Christ again today “in our sisters and in our brothers killed, burned alive, throats cut and decapitated with barbaric swords and with cowardly silence,” he said referring to the martyrdom of Christians in many countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa.

“We see” that cross too “in the faces of children, of women, and of persons exhausted and terrified that flee from wars and violence and often only find death and many Pilates with washed hands,” Francis stated, expressing yet again his profound concern at the plight of the world’s some 50 million refugees and migrants. Moreover, “we see” it also “in our Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea that have become an insatiable cemetery, an image of our insensitive and anesthetized conscience.”

This is the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and Francis in his prayer mentioned those who show little mercy. “We see” the Cross of Christ still today, he said, “in the doctors of the letter and not of the spirit, of death and not of life, which instead of teaching mercy and life, threaten punishment and death and condemn the just.” Likewise, we see it “in the hardened hearts of those who comfortably judge others, hearts (that are) ready to condemn even to stone, without ever noticing their own sins and faults.”

Referring to the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by priests, Francis said “we see” the cross in children who are abused by “the unfaithful ministers that instead of stripping themselves of their own vane ambitions strip even the innocent of their own dignity.”

Today’s celebration was held in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Bruxelles. Francis alluded to that when he said “we see” the cross of Christ “again in the fundamentalism and terrorism of some religion that profanes the name of God and use it to justify their un-heard of violence.” It is seen too he noted, “in the powerful ones and in the sellers of arms that fuel the furnaces of war with the innocent blood of brothers.”

Ever attentive to the fate of the excluded and discarded, Francis told his global audience that “we see” the cross also “in the elderly abandoned by their own relatives, in the disabled and in the undernourished children and in the discarded by our selfish and hypocritical society.”

Francis pointed to the cross that is erected in people’s lives because of “the robbers” and “the corrupt” who “instead of safeguarding the common good and ethics sell them in the miserable market of immorality.” He saw it too in those that are left “die of hunger” by those who store up “treasures that perish.”

One year ago, Francis issued an encyclical on the environment, and in his prayer he declared that the injustice reflected in the cross is present “in the destroyers of our ‘common home’ that through selfishness ruin the future of the next generations.”

It was the fourth time that Francis has presided over this deeply moving, simple, prayerful event. He came here first soon after his election as pope in 2013, and returned in 2014 and 2015, following a tradition that dates back to Benedict XIV (1740-58), who initiated this prayerful event at the Coliseum, an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome where Christians suffered martyrdom.

The tradition was abandoned for a long time, but Paul VI revived it in 1964 during the Second Vatican Council, and it has been continued by his successors. Today the prayerful service not only attracts Romans and pilgrims from all continents, it has also become a global media event followed by countless millions of people on all continents thanks to radio, television and the social media

Pope Francis asked the Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Peugia, Italy, to write the meditations for this year’s event. The cardinal centered his reflections for the 14 stations around the theme that “God is merciful” and linked the Gospel account of the passion of Jesus, which were read at this evening’s event, to the suffering of people in today’s world in situations of war, poverty, persecution and wherever the dignity of people is violated every day, for economic and other reasons, and in the family. “Jesus lived his passion personally, and he re-lives it in humanity today,” the cardinal told Vatican Radio. 

Text of Pope Francis’s prayer at the Coliseum (Translation by America’s Vatican correspondent):

O CROSS OF CHRIST

O Cross of Christ, symbol of divine love and of human injustice, icon of the supreme sacrifice for love and of the extreme egoism for foolishness, instrument of death and way of resurrection, sign of obedience and emblem of betrayal, scaffold of execution and standard of victory.

O Cross of Christ, again today we see you erected in our sisters and in our brothers killed, burned alive, throats cut and decapitated with barbaric swords and with cowardly silence.

O Cross of Christ, still today we see you in the faces of children, of women and of persons, exhausted and terrified that flee from wars and violence and often do not find (anything) but death and many Pilates with washed hands.

O Cross of Christ, still today we see you in the doctors of the letter and not of the spirit, of death and not of life, which instead of teaching mercy and life, threaten punishment and death and condemn the just.

O Cross of Christ, still today we see you in the unfaithful ministers that instead of stripping themselves of their own vane ambitions strip even the innocent of their own dignity.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the hardened hearts of those who comfortably judge others, hearts ready to condemn even to stone, without ever noticing their own sins and faults.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the fundamentalism and terrorism of some religion that profanes the name of God and use it to justify their un-heard of violence.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in those that want to remove you from the public places and to exclude you from public life, in the name of some pagan laicism or even in the name of the equality that you yourself have taught us.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the powerful ones and in the sellers of arms that fuel the furnaces of war with the innocent blood of brothers.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the traitors that for thirty coins consign anyone to death.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the robbers and in the corrupt that instead of safeguarding the common good and ethics sell them in the miserable market of immorality.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the foolish that build deposits to keep the treasures that perish, leaving Lazarus die of hunger at their doors.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the destroyers of our ‘common home’ that with selfishness ruin the future of the next generations.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again in the elderly abandoned by their own relatives, in the disabled and in the undernourished children and the discarded by our selfish and hypocritical society.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in our Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea that have become an insatiable cemetery, an image of our insensitive and anesthetized conscience.

O Cross of Christ, image of love without end and way of the Resurrection, we see you again today in good and just people that do good without seeking the applause or admiration of others.  

O Cross of Christ, we see you again in the faithful and humble ministers that illuminate the darkness of our life like a candle that is gratuitously consumed to illuminate the life of the ones that are last.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the faces of the sisters and consecrated persons—the good Samaritans—who abandon everything to bind, in evangelical silence, the wounds of poverty and injustice.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the merciful that find in mercy the maximum expression of justice and of faith.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the simple persons that live their faith joyfully in daily life and in the filial observance of the commandments.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the repentant ones that know how, from the depth of the misery of their sins, to cry out: Lord remember me in your kingdom!

O Cross of Christ, we see you again in the blessed and in the saints that have known how to go through the darkness of the night of faith without losing trust in you and without pretending to understand your mysterious silence.

O Cross of Christ, we see you again today in the families that live with fidelity and fruitfulness their marriage vocation.

Correction: March 25, 2016
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Benedict XIV as Benedict XVI. 
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
1 year 8 months ago
Good piece of reporting Gerard O'Connell ! in The Risen Christ,
J SantosdeDios
1 year 8 months ago
vane ambitions?

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