VATICAN CITY, APRIL 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- During Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross, John Paul II presented the dead and risen Jesus Christ as the final answer and hope for mankind.
An Iraqi Catholic family carried the cross between the 13th and 14th stations of the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum. The Pope, seated, followed the event seated from the nearby Palatine Hill.
In one of the earlier stations, the cross was carried by Giuliana Urbani, the widow of Carlo Urbani, the World Health Organization doctor who was the first to alert the world about severe acute respiratory syndrome. He died as a consequence of SARS on March 29.
An immense cross of light highlighted the four quarters of the imposing Roman Circus, while thousands of pilgrims followed the meditations holding lit candles and answering the invocations in Latin.
At the end, John Paul II put aside the text he had written for the occasion and reflected spontaneously on the central mystery of Christianity: the death and resurrection of Christ, pledge of salvation for mankind.
The Holy Father’s words were studded with quotations in Latin from the liturgical hymns of Good Friday. He spoke slowly, moving his hand expressively.
The essence of the Pope’s reflection was summarized in the liturgical exclamation: “Look at the tree of the cross, where the salvation of the world was nailed.”
“Man could not invent this mystery,” he said. “Only God could reveal it. Man does not have the possibility to give us life after death. In the human order, death is the last word. But the last word that follows, that of the resurrection, comes from God. This is the reason we celebrate these three holy days with so much love.”
“Today, Christ is taken down from the cross and placed in the sepulcher,” the Pope said. “And tomorrow will be the day of profound silence in all the world, in all the cosmos, and in all of us. A silence of expectation: ‘Look at the tree of the cross, where the salvation of the world was nailed.’
“This tree of the cross that caused the death of the Son of God opened the way toward the day after.”
He continued: “The day of the resurrection we will sing: ‘The Lord resurrected from the sepulcher.’ This is the simplicity and profundity of God in these three paschal days. I hope that all of you will live them as profoundly as possible.
“We are here, as every year, around the Colosseum, symbol that speaks to us of past times, of that great Roman Empire, which fell, as well as of the Christian martyrs who gave witness with their life and with their death. It is difficult to find another place in which the mystery of the cross speaks in a more eloquent way.”
In the text the Holy Father wrote for the occasion, but put aside, he asked: “Can we remain indifferent before this heartrending cry of pain that rises from so many parts of the planet?”