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By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When he told Pope Francis that writing
the meditations for the papal Way of the Cross service was tough, Cardinal
Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve said the pope told him,
“Remember, you aren’t doing it for me, but for the church.”

The Good Friday service, which takes places at night at
Rome’s Colosseum, is broadcast around the world. Tens of thousands of people gather
with the pope around the ancient Roman amphitheater to meditate on the last
moments of Jesus’ life.

Each year the pope asks a different person to write the
meditations and prayers that are read out after each station is announced.
Cardinal Bassetti was chosen for the March 25 service.

“For every station I tried to make a reference to
current events because, as Pope Francis says, ‘God is real and shows himself
today,'” the cardinal told the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Reflecting on Christ’s passion, the cardinal also urged
people to reflect on how human sin and suffering continue today. His
meditations refer to modern martyrs being killed “in every corner of the
globe” just because they are Christians. He refers to the suffering of
migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and persecution but risking disease and
death as they make the perilous journey toward a new life.

“Without a doubt, though, it was most difficult to
write about violence against children,” both those reduced to slavery in
forced work and those abused by adults, he said. “When I wrote those lines
I felt like I was not using a pen on paper, but a chisel on marble, such was
the suffering in writing about those plagues.”

Reading and praying about the stations in preparation for
writing, the cardinal said he was struck particularly by portrayals of the use
and abuse of power.

In the first station, “Jesus is condemned to
death,” Pilate has political power and can “give or take a life according
to his own interests,” he said. In the fourth station, “Jesus meets
his mother,” one sees the power love has to give life; and the 11th
station, “Jesus is nailed to the cross,” illustrates divine power in
“the ability of the Lord to open the path to eternal life when human eyes
see only death and humiliation.”

Standing before Pilate, the cardinal wrote in the first
station, “Jesus is alone before the power of this world. And he submits to
human justice completely.”

Pilate and the crowds — including men and women today — hand
him over to be crucified, he wrote. They are “dominated by a sensation
that is common to all people: fear — the fear of losing their security, their
goods, their lives.”

The Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, printed
booklets with the complete texts of the prayers and meditations. They were to
be handed out free of charge to people joining the pope at the Colosseum and available
for sale at the Vatican bookstore.

By participating in the Via Crucis service and remembering
Christ’s passion, Christians assert their faith that suffering is not absurd
and that, in the end, Christ is victorious over both evil and death, Cardinal
Bassetti told L’Osservatore Romano.

At the same time, he said, it means “recognizing that
in our daily crosses, Jesus is with us.”

Most of the cardinal’s meditations and prayers were designed
to help Catholics recognize how much they need God’s mercy, the great cost paid
by Jesus for their salvation and how Christ continues to suffer today in the
lives of so many people.

In his meditation for the third station, “Jesus falls
for the first time,” Cardinal Bassetti asks a question countless have
asked throughout history, “Where is God?”

“There are situations that seem to negate God’s
love,” he wrote. “Where is God in the death camps? Where is God in
the mines and factories where child slaves work? Where is God in the rickety
boats that sink in the Mediterranean?”

Cardinal Bassetti’s prayer for that station is “for all
those situations of suffering that seem to have no sense,” including for
“Christians killed in hatred of the faith, for victims of every kind of
persecution, for children who are slaves, for the innocent who die in

The prayers for the seventh and ninth stations, when Jesus
falls again, are likewise prayers for lists of people who find themselves
thrown or pushed down to the ground under the weight of almost unbearable
suffering: abused women, orphans, those whose families have broken up and the

For the 13th station, “Jesus is taken down from the
cross,” the cardinal focuses on Joseph of Arimathea who requested
permission to bury Jesus. Taking Jesus while he is still “a loser,” Joseph of Arimathea shows “the strength of faith, a faith that becomes acceptance,
gratuity and love. In a word: charity.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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