Pope Francis on Good Friday presided at the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at the Colosseum, Rome. The reflections penned by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, founder of “Slaves No More” put the spotlight on, among other things, the suffering borne by victims of human trafficking today, children who are exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, and on migrants who died in shipwrecks.
At the end of the service, Francis read a prayer in which he spoke of the poor, the hungry, the elderly, abused children and the environment.
Thousands of people holding candles attended the Way of the Cross. The Colosseum is chosen as it is the place where thousands of Christians once suffered martyrdom for their fidelity to Christ.
“All the crosses of the world”
Pope Francis in his conclusion prayed that Jesus helps “us to see in Your Cross all the crosses of the world … the cross of little ones wounded in their innocence and in their purity.”
He also spoke of “the cross of migrants who find doors closed because of fear and hearts that are armoured by political calculation.” He added a plea for abused minors.
Francis also prayed for “the cross of the Church, your Bride, who feels herself continually attacked from inside and outside.”
Pope Francis prayed to see Christ in “the cross of consecrated persons who, along the way, have forgotten their first love” and “the cross of our common home that seriously withers under our eyes, selfish and blinded by greed and power.”
Pope Francis also prayed for persecuted Christians who “find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their relatives and their peers.”
Slaves no more
Sister Bonetti was chosen by the Pope himself to write the meditations used in this year’s Way of the Cross. The 80 year old sister is a Consolata Missionary Sister from northern Italy, who aids women and girls in Italy to leave prostitution and trafficking.
The meditation for the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, compared what happened 2000 years ago to an incident in today’s Italy where “the young girl with a slim body we met one evening in Rome while men in luxury cars lined up to exploit her. She might have been the age of their own children”.
The prayer that followed stated:
“Cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children. … Little ones used as cheap goods, bought and sold at will. Lord, we ask you to have mercy and compassion on this sick world. Help us rediscover the beauty of our dignity, and that of others, as human beings created in your image and likeness.”
On wearing a crucifix chain
In another part of the Via Crucis Sister Bonetti prayed:
“Lord Jesus, it is easy to wear a crucifix on a chain around our neck or to use it to decorate the walls of our beautiful cathedrals or homes. It is less easy to encounter and acknowledge today’s newly crucified: the homeless; the young deprived of hope, without work and without prospects; the immigrants relegated to slums at the fringe of our societies after having endured untold suffering.”
Sr Bonetti clearly explained the theme of the Via Crucis
“We want to walk this via dolorosa in union with the poor, the outcast of our societies and all those who even now are enduring crucifixion as victims of our narrow mindedness, our institutions and our laws, our blindness and selfishness, but especially our indifference and hardness of heart.”
The Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum was a Roman practice that dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758. After a pause, the tradition was revived by St. Pope Paul VI in 1964. During St. John Paul II’s papacy, the Colosseum stations became a worldwide television event; the pope himself used to carry the cross. This year the cross was carried by priests from Syria and the Holy Land, several religious sisters, and a man in a wheelchair. Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Vicar General of Rome, carried the cross for the first and last stations.