ROME – On Good Friday, in yet another sign of Pope Francis’s spiritual closeness with Ukraine, a Ukrainian and a Russian family will each carry the cross during one of the stations of the Via Crucis that Francis will lead in Rome’s Colosseum.
“Death everywhere,” wrote the families in the meditations. “Life that seems to lose its value. Everything changes in a few seconds. Our life, our days, the carefree winter snow, bringing the children to school, work, embraces, friendships… everything. Everything suddenly loses meaning and value.”
They go on with a series of questions addressed to God: “Where are you Lord? Where are you hiding? We want our life back as before. Why all of this? What wrong did we do? Why have you forsaken us? Why have you forsaken our peoples? Why did you break up our families like this? Why do we no longer have the desire to dream and to go on living? Why has my land become as dark as Golgotha?”
“We have no tears left,” they wrote. “Anger has given way to resignation. We know that you love us, Lord, but we don’t feel this love and it drives us to desperation. We wake up in the morning and feel happy for a few moments, but then we suddenly think how difficult it will be to reconcile ourselves to all this. Lord where are you?”
The meditation belongs to the thirteenth station of the Via Crucis procession, or Way of the Cross, “Jesus dies on the cross.” The full set of 14 meditations was released by the Vatican on Monday. Each of the meditations were written by families in different situations: a young married couple, an elderly couple without children, a family that has lost a child, one marred by war, and a family of migrants.
The families are linked to Catholic volunteer associations and communities, and the theme was chosen to mark the fifth anniversary of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation following the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.
The meditations are divided into 14 stations that revisit the central moments of Christ’s passion, from the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to his burial. Each station includes a passage of the Gospel, a short reflection, an intention, and a prayer.
The meditation for the fifth station was written by a couple with a disabled son, who wrote that he was “already judged before he came into the world,” with doctors “clearly communicating” that it was better “he not be born.” When they chose life, they write, “we were also judged. We were told: ‘He will be a burden to you and to society. Crucify him.’ Yet he had done no wrong.”
“Disability is not a badge or a label; instead it is the garb of a soul that frequently prefers to be silent in the face of unjust judgments, not out of shame but out of mercy towards those who do the judging,” they wrote. “We are not immune from the cross of doubt or from the temptation to wonder how it would be if things had gone differently. Disability is a condition; it does not define us.”
The 12th station was written by a family that lost a child, though it becomes clear during the meditation that the woman writing it also lost her husband and the father of her three children. Five years ago, the youngest daughter was diagnosed with a form of cancer “that showed every minute on the face of our youngest daughter.”
The illness did not stop the girl from smiling, she wrote, but it made “the horrible injustice we were experiencing all the more painful.”
“Then, to add insult to injury, my husband died suddenly after six years of marriage, thus plunging us into a period of excruciating loneliness, during which, two years later, we accompanied our little girl to her grave,” the woman wrote.
“The biggest falsehood we had to fight was the thought that we were no longer a family,” she wrote. “I know no other way to deal with my heartbreak and my searing pain, other than to entrust myself to the Lord who walks beside me on this earthly journey. Many times, during my daughter’s chemo sessions, I felt like Mary beneath the cross; and it is that experience that makes me feel today – even if only a little – like the mother of my Lord.”
The meditation for the ninth station was written by a couple who adopted two children, after facing “the cross of loneliness” and the realization that they would only become parents through adoption.
“Adoption is the story of a life marked by the pain of loss healed by acceptance,” they wrote. “But the pain never fully heals. Adoption is a cross that parents and children carry together on their shoulders, bearing it, trying to alleviate the pain but also embracing it as part of the child’s life.”
It hurts, they write, to see children suffer because of their past. Loving them without being able to make a dent in their pain hurts, too.
“We have adopted one another,” they wrote. “Every single day, though, we wake up knowing it was worth it; that all our efforts are not in vain; that this cross, for all its pain, hides a secret happiness.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma