VATICAN CITY, MARCH 28, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Way of the Cross that John Paul II will lead on Good Friday will culminate with a meditation on the 14th Station written by a young Austrian journalist.
Marie Czernin, 29, correspondent of the German Catholic periodical Die Tagespost (www.die-tagespost.de/index.html), is one of 14 journalists who wrote the meditations for one of the most moving events of Holy Week in Rome.
Here, Marie Czernin tells ZENIT how she received the proposal and how she wrote the meditation for the 14th Station.
Q: How did you learn that you had been chosen to write the Via Crucis for the Pope?
Czernin: It was a total surprise. We were called to the Vatican Press Office to be told that we had an appointment with Bishop Piero Marini, master of papal celebrations, who wished to speak with us.
Given the private and totally extraordinary nature of the call, we thought he would talk to us about something very important, such as the Pope´s health. However, Bishop Marini explained to us that this year the Pope had chosen journalists [to write the meditations]. Alexej Bukalov, correspondent of Itar-Tass, spoke spontaneously to express our gratitude and to acknowledge that it was a great honor for us.
Q: Then you returned home with one question: “And now, what should I write?”
Czernin: Yes, it was really difficult to concentrate, especially in a city like Rome, full of noise, where it is impossible to find a minute of silence. The life of a journalist is very frenetic and I thought I would not be able to find the silence to write a meditation.
I did not want it to be something that came simply from my reflection, but that it be inspired by prayer, by the Holy Spirit. We were supposed to hand in the text on Monday, Feb. 25, and the week before I had still not written a thing.
Czernin: That week, the Pope was in Spiritual Exercises and for us, journalists, it was calmer. I went on retreat for three days to Umbria, to Gubbio where St. Francis tamed the wolf, the most remote place in the world. I go there when I need peace and silence, to the convent of the Sisters of Bethlehem and of the Assumption of the Virgin, a new monastic community that arose in France.
They know me well and when I go, they give me a cell. I told the nuns what I had to do, and they supported me intensely with prayer. They gave me some texts on the topic that might inspire my meditation.
Q: Why did you choose the 14th Station, “Jesus is placed in the sepulcher”?
Czernin: In part, it was accidental. Bishop Marini suggested that the women journalists choose stations where women appear. The other women journalists chose those more directly related [to women]. I would have chosen Veronica´s, but it was not among the 14 Stations. As no one was choosing the last one, I decided to choose it. But Bishop Marini told me that women are extremely present in that station: Mary and the other women help to place Jesus´ body in the sepulcher.
I then realized that in reality, ever since I was little, Holy Saturday has always fascinated me. It is a day that is suspended between life and death, between death and resurrection — a day of silence. Little by little I kept remembering Easter in my home, a very special day. In Byzantine spirituality, the cross never appears alone, but always projected toward the resurrection, the glorious cross.
Q: However, all that had to be put on paper.
Czernin: The first day of retreat that I dedicated to the Via Crucis in Gubbio was a Friday, I was sick, and very tired. I read the texts the nuns had given me but I was falling asleep. The sisters were afraid that I might not be able to do anything, as I had to hand the text in on Monday.
On Saturday the situation did not improve. One of the sisters asked me how I was doing. I answered that I was still “going up to Calvary.” Then we began to invoke the Holy Spirit. In fact, I did the whole Via Crucis, so as not to remain just with the 14th Station.
By living the Via Crucis, I could understand better its final point. I also prayed for the journalists who had to write the stations. I felt the communion of the sisters who were praying for me. On Saturday I did nothing, and I had only one day left.
I woke up suddenly at 5 o´clock on Sunday morning, without an alarm clock, and ideas came very forcefully to my mind, like flashes. I started to write exactly as they came to me, at great speed. The silence of the morning is my best time to write. This is also true with my articles.
Q: Which was the strongest flash you had?
Czernin: To see the dynamic between death and resurrection: the time of the tomb is not the time of nothingness. It was the time in which Christ acted powerfully although in a hidden manner. This idea has always made an impression on me. The idea of the grain of wheat came to me — “if it does not fall on the ground and die it does not give fruit.”
It was the moment of total humiliation, of absolute “kenosis.” St. Epiphanius relives that moment re-creating a dialogue between Adam and Christ. “What are you doing among the dead?” the first astonished man asks his Savior.
Q: And, as a woman, how do you identify with those women who in the morning took balm and ointment to cleanse the massacred body of Christ?
Czernin: In my personal life it has always impressed me how those women went to the sepulcher believing that he was dead. Sometimes I also had the vision of a dead Jesus: He was not a living Jesus, who speaks to us and inspires us. It was an image made up of prejudices.
He himself has made me understand, in the passage of Sunday morning when the women took the ointments, the answer to a question: “Why do I weep for a dead Jesus, when he is among the living?
Q: Why did the Pope asked journalists to write the Via Crucis?
Czernin: The Pope has always appreciated the work of journalists. With a sort of pedagogic gesture, he has entrusted this task to us to remind us of our responsibility. There are those who might criticize him, thinking that a journalist should not be involved in something that the Vatican proposes, so as not to lose his liberty and objectivity.
Personally, I see no contradiction: A journalist can be a believer and be a good journalist. He does not lose his objectivity because of it. I write for a Catholic periodical and, if we need to criticize something, we do so, as we must follow the principle of truth.
Q: What is this Via Crucis of journalists like? What has been your specific contribution?
Czernin: This year we have lived through tragic events which have shocked us and changed history. When I read the newspapers I feel I am faced with a living Via Crucis. Bishop Marini told us that there is a theme in the 14 Stations we have written: we must reflect on these daily, tragic events in the light of Christ´s passion.
However, on this occasion we could not seek shelter in professional coldness. We had to open ourselves and confess our faith. We could not continue to be spectators of the world´s suffering. The moment of choice has now arrived; we cannot remain indifferent.