ROME, APRIL 22, 2011 ( Benedict XVI relived the "drama" of the passion and death of Jesus Christ tonight in Rome together with thousands of faithful, who gathered at the Colosseum to pray the Way of the Cross.

Speaking from atop the Palatine hill, he said that during the devotional prayer of the Via Crucis, the faithful accompany Jesus "as he takes the final steps of his earthly journey, the most painful steps, the steps that lead to Calvary."

"We have heard the cries of the crowd, the words of condemnation, the insults of the soldiers, the lamentation of the Virgin Mary and of the women," he continued. "Now we are immersed in the silence of this night, in the silence of the cross, the silence of death. It is a silence pregnant with the burden of pain borne by a man rejected, oppressed, downtrodden, the burden of sin that mars his face, the burden of evil.

"Tonight we have relived, deep within our hearts, the drama of Jesus, weighed down by pain, by evil, by human sin."

The Holy Father stated that at the end of the devotional prayer, the image of a "crucified man" is what remains, which seems to be a sign "of the final defeat of the One who brought light to those immersed in darkness, the One who spoke of the power of forgiveness and of mercy, the One who asked us to believe in God’s infinite love for each human person."

Benedict XVI affirmed, however, that "the cross is not the banner of the victory of death, sin and evil, but rather the luminous sign of love, of God’s immense love, of something that we could never have asked, imagined or expected."

"God bent down over us," he explained, "he lowered himself, even to the darkest corner of our lives, in order to stretch out his hand and draw us to himself, to bring us all the way to himself. The cross speaks to us of the supreme love of God and invites, today, to renew our faith in the power of that love, and to believe that in every situation of our lives, our history and our world, God is able to vanquish death, sin and evil, and to give us new, risen life."

"In the Son of God’s death on the cross, we find the seed of new hope for life, like the seed which dies within the earth," the Pontiff added.

Cross bearers

For this year's Via Crucis, two young Italians -- 10-year-old Dilletta and 12-year-old Michele -- introduced each of the 14 stations. The cross was carried by various volunteers, beginning with Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope's vicar for Rome, and then followed successively by a Roman family with their five children, a family from Ethiopia, two Augustinian nuns, a Franciscan and youth from Egypt, a man in a wheelchair, and two Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land.

Benedict XVI followed the procession on his knees, which began inside the Colosseum and concluded at the top of the Palatine Hill.

The meditations and illustrations for the Stations of the Cross were prepared by two Augustinian nuns, Sister Maria Rita Piccione and Sister Elena Maria Manganelli.

Sister Maria Rita, the president of the Our Lady of Good Counsel Federation of Augustinian Monasteries in Italy, penned the meditations, while Sister Elena Maria, formerly a professional sculptress, created the illustrations that accompany the texts.

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On ZENIT's Web page:

Meditations for Via Crucis: