ROME — Pope Francis on Friday compared several modern-day situations to Jesus’ crucifixion, saying that the death of the Son of God in the cross is reflected in those killed in war, the victims of terrorism and persecution, in the “insatiable cemeteries” for refugees formed by the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and in all those cast off by an “egotistical and hypocritical society.”
“Today, too, we see you in those who wish to remove you from public places and exclude you from public life, in the name of a pagan secularism or that equality you yourself taught us,” Francis said.
Late on Friday, marked on the Christian calendar as the day Jesus Christ died on the Cross before rising again three days later, the pope presided over the traditional Way of the Cross procession Rome’s Coliseum, recalling the path of Christ to his crucifixion.
This year, several families and other individuals from Russia, China, the Central African Republic, Kenya, the Holy Land, and Syria, all carried the cross around the historic site.
During the 14 stations, the thousands gathered around the ruins of the coliseum prayed for the victims of sexual abuse, modern-day martyrs, those persecuted, the unemployed, the poor, orphans, and those whose families have broken up.
The 10th station, for instance, defined “the wounds of children who have been violated” as the most painful ones.
On that stop, a reflection written by Italian Cardinal Gualtiero Basetti of Perugia at Francis’ request, prayed for “those unable to appreciate the mystery of their own body, for those unable to accept beauty or who disfigure it, for those who do not respect the vulnerability and sanctity of the body that ages and dies.”
At the third station, Bassetti asks a question posed by many throughout history: “Where is God?” in the death camps, in the factories where children work like slaves, and in the tragedies of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea.
“Behold, Christ is there; an outcast among outcasts, a failure among so many other failures, a fallen victim among so many shipwrecked souls,” he wrote.
At the sixth station, which contemplates the moment in which Veronica, an unknown woman, wipes the face of Jesus, Bassetti wrote about the love that makes her go through the crowds and the guards to “perform an act of compassion and faith.”
“We instinctively try to run away from suffering, because suffering is repugnant to us,” Bassetti’s reflection said. “How can we not see the face of the Lord in the face of the millions of exiles, refugees, and displaced persons who are fleeing in desperation from the horror of war, persecution and dictatorship?”
In his closing prayer, Pope Francis defined Christ’s cross as a “symbol of divine love and of human injustice.”
He then said that the cross is still visible today, listing several situations in which human pain reflects that of Christ, such as “our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.”
Francis also included “the hardened hearts of those who easily judge others,” the deaths of migrants and refugees fleeing violence and who only find “Pilates who wash their hands,” weapons dealers who “feed the cauldrons of war,” thieves and corrupt officials, and the destroyers of “our common home” as places where Jesus sacrifice is visible.
However, the pope included more than situations of human suffering: “Today, too, we see you in noble and upright persons who do good without seeking praise or admiration from others.”
As examples, he listed faithful ministers, consecrated men and women, “simple men and women who live their faith joyfully,” the volunteers who serve those in need, and families that live their vocation faithfully.
Earlier in the day, Francis listened to a sermon by the Preacher of the Papal Household, an Italian Capuchin priest named Father Raniero Cantalamessa.
Good Friday is among the rare occasions when the pope celebrates a liturgy but does not preach. It’s also the only day in the Roman Catholic calendar when throughout the world, no Mass is celebrated.
Cantalamessa’s long reflection turned around man’s need to reconcile with God.
In tune with Francis’ special jubilee Holy Year, Cantalamessa, whose last name means “sing the Mass,” also spoke about mercy, saying that its opposite isn’t justice but vengeance.
“Jesus did not oppose mercy to justice but to the law of retaliation: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth’,” he said.
The preacher said the terrorist attacks which shook Brussels earlier in the week help understand Christ’s last words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“No matter how far the hate of human beings can go, the love of God always has been, and will be, greater,” Cantalamessa said.
On Saturday, Francis will preside over the Easter Vigil Mass, and on Sunday he’ll celebrate an open-air Mass in St. Peter’s Square.