VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- When Benedict XVI celebrates the Way of the Cross in the Roman Colosseum this Good Friday, he will trace the steps not only of the suffering Jesus, but of the suffering Church, and particularly those who suffer in China.
The meditations for the traditional event were written this year by Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop of Hong Kong. The 76-year-old cardinal said in the foreword that when the Pope asked him “to prepare the meditations for this year’s Via Crucis […] I did not have the slightest hesitation in accepting the task.”
“I recognized that this was the Holy Father’s way of demonstrating his personal concern for the great Continent of Asia, and in particular, his way of including in this solemn act of Christian piety the faithful people of China,” the cardinal said. “The Pope wanted me to bring the voice of these distant sisters and brothers to the Colosseum.”
In the opening prayer, Cardinal Zen wrote that the Way of the Cross gathers together the faithful to remember Christ’s “many servants who were torn to pieces and killed here, centuries ago, amid the roars of the hungry lions and the cries of the spectators, for their faithfulness” to the name of Christ.
“Colosseums have multiplied down the centuries, wherever our brothers and sisters, in different parts of the world, continue to be harshly persecuted today, prolonging your Passion,” the prayer continues. “Together with you and our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, we begin this journey along the Via Dolorosa with deep emotion, the journey that you once traveled with such great love.”
Cardinal Zen’s 14-station meditation does not follow the traditional points of reflection in the Way of the Cross.
The first station is dedicated to Jesus in agony in the Garden of Olives, and already there, the cardinal allows the voice of the Chinese to be heard in the Colosseum, along with the voice of other persecuted Christians.
“In his Letter to the Catholics in China, Benedict XVI recalled the vision in the Apocalypse of St. John where the apostle weeps before the sealed book of human history, the ‘mysterium iniquitatis.’ Only the Lamb that was slain is capable of removing the seal,” the meditation reads. “In many parts of the world, the Bride of Christ is undergoing the dark hour of persecution. […] Let us be watchful, and let us accompany the Bride of Christ in our prayer.”
Further along the Way, at the fifth station, Jesus is judged by Pilate.
“Pilate appeared powerful; he was in a position to determine the life or death of Jesus,” the meditation reads. “He enjoyed that ironic reference to the ‘King of the Jews,’ but in truth he was weak, wretched and servile. He was afraid of the Emperor Tiberius, he was afraid of the people, he was afraid of the chief priests, while nevertheless despising them in his heart. He handed Jesus over to be crucified, knowing that he was innocent.
“In his vain attempt to save Jesus, he ended up granting freedom to a dangerous murderer. To no avail he sought to wash those hands, dripping with innocent blood. Pilate is the image of all those who wield authority as an instrument of power, having no regard for justice.”
In the next station, the faithful will reflect on Jesus, scourged and crowned with thorns. Cardinal Zen used this meditation to consider the issue of torture.
“Scourging as it was practiced in those days was a terrible punishment. The dreadful flagellum used by the Romans tore the flesh to shreds. And the crown of thorns, apart from causing the most acute pain, was also a mockery of the divine prisoner’s kingship, as were the spitting and the blows,” the meditation explains. “Appalling forms of torture continue to emerge from the cruelty of the human heart — and psychological tortures are no less terrible than the physical variety; often the victims themselves become torturers in their turn.”
“Are all these sufferings meaningless?” the text asks, and in the prayer directly afterward, provides the answer: “No, Jesus, you continue to gather together and sanctify suffering of all kinds: that of the sick, of those who die in hardship, of all who experience discrimination; but the sufferings which shine out over all others are those endured for your name.
“By the sufferings of the martyrs, bless your Church; may their blood become the seed of new Christians. We firmly believe that their sufferings, even if at the time they seem like total defeat, will bring true victory to your Church.”
Close to Jesus
The eleventh station, when Jesus promises his kingdom to the Good Thief, sounds a note of hope.
The thief “was an evil-doer,” the meditation notes. “He represents all evil-doers, that is to say, all of us. He had the good fortune to be close to Jesus in suffering, but all of us have this good fortune. Like him, let us say: ‘Lord, remember us, when you come into your kingdom.’ We will receive the same reply.
“And what of those who do not have the good fortune to be close to Jesus? Jesus is close to them, to each and every one.
“‘Jesus, remember us’: Let us speak these words to him for ourselves, for our friends, for our enemies, and for the persecutors of our friends. The salvation of all people is the Lord’s true victory.”
The final prayer of the Way of the Cross confirms the hope inherent in the Paschal event: “Help us always to be mindful of your words, Lord: ‘Do not be afraid! I have overcome the world. I shall never fail you. I am with you always, until the end of the world.’ Lord, increase our faith!”
After the fourteenth station, the Holy Father will address those present and then give the apostolic blessing.
The Way of the Cross will be televised on Good Friday on EWTN at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.