Pope Francis’ Good Friday meditations this year will speak of hope beyond crime, concentrating on such sentiments as “no sin will ever have the last word”.
– “The resurrection of a person is never the work of an individual, but of the community working together”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the pontiff won’t be going to the Roman Colosseum this year for the traditional Stations of the Cross, and instead will hold the service outside St. Peter’s Basilica next Friday April 10 at 9pm.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the Pope’s meditations for the Via Crucis in their new setting will be any less focused on aspects of Christ’s passion and death.
For 2020, Francis asked prisoners at Padua’s Due Palazzi prison to prepare his reflections, along with guards, volunteers, inmates’ families and victims of crime.
The result, the Pope himself said in a March letter to the people of the Veneto region in Italy, is a “moving” reflection on the fact that “the resurrection of a person is never the work of an individual, but of the community working together”.
– Inmate: “After 29 years in prison, I have not yet lost the ability to cry, to feel ashamed of my past”
Indeed, it’s hard not to be moved by the meditations of the “parish of the prison” – as Pope Francis called it – which were published April 3 by the Vatican publishing house, as CNS reports.
The reflection for the first station – “Jesus is condemned to death” – was written by a veteran inmate who said he can identify with the condemnation of Jesus to death.
“So many times, in the courts and in the newspapers, that cry resounds: ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ It’s a cry I’ve also heard about myself”, acknowledged the long-term prisoner, who admitted he feels “like Barabbas, Peter and Judas in one person”.
“When, locked in a cell, I reread the pages of the Passion of Christ, I burst into tears”, the detainee continued, musing on the reality that “after 29 years in prison, I have not yet lost the ability to cry, to feel ashamed of my past, of the evil I have done”.
– Parents who lost a daughter to murder: “Jesus invites us to keep the door of our home open to the weakest”
Just as poignant as the prisoner’s testimony is the meditation for the second station, “Jesus takes up his cross”, which was written by parents whose daughter was murdered.
“In that horrible summer, our life as parents died along with that of our two daughters”, the mother and father wrote, explaining one of their offspring “was killed with her best friend by the blind violence of a man without mercy”, while “the other, who miraculously survived, was deprived of her smile forever”.
Although the couple describe themselves as “victims of the worst pain that exists: surviving the death of a daughter”, they said too that they are still convinced that “the Lord comes to meet us”.
“He invites us to keep the door of our home open to the weakest, to the desperate, to welcome those who knock on our door, even just for a bowl of soup. Making charity our commandment is a form of salvation for us; we do not want to give in to evil”, the murdered girls’ parents wrote.
– Daughter of a man locked up for life: “I’ve been condemned to grow up without a father”
The Pope’s meditation for the eighth station, meanwhile – “Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem” – was written by the daughter of a man serving a life sentence in jail, and who focused on the experience of being held accountable for her father’s crimes.
Acknowledging that it’s “almost impossible” to not think of her father’s victims, the life-prisoner’s daughter said she asks back to their doubters:
“‘Have you ever thought that of all the victims of my father’s actions, I was the first?’ For 28 years, I’ve been condemned to grow up without a father”.
– A priest falsely accused: “My priesthood was illuminated”
A further testimony to be featured in the Pope’s Via Crucis this year comes from a priest who was falsely accused of abuse by a former student, and whose words make up the meditation for the eleventh station, “Jesus is nailed to the cross”.
The falsely-accused cleric wrote of the experience of facing accusations “made of words as hard as nails”, and of the charge’s airing in court as being “the darkest moment” for him.
“In that moment, I realised I was a man forced to prove his innocence, without being guilty.
“I was hanging on the cross for 10 years. It was my Way of the Cross populated with folders, suspicions, accusations and insults.
“Every time, in the courts, I looked for the crucifix on the wall. I stared at it while the law investigated my story”.
Still, despite his particular Via Crucis, the accused priest said he “never thought of shortening the cross”, especially as he knew he was being supported by other students and their families, who he said “bore the weight of the cross with me and wiped away many tears”.
“Together with me, many of them prayed for the boy who accused me. We will never stop doing it”, the cleric reflected.
“The day I was fully acquitted, I discovered that I was happier than I was 10 years ago. I experienced God’s action in my life. Hanging on the cross, my priesthood was illuminated”.
– Deacon prison guard “defends hope of people who are resigned, frightened”
One other of the Pope’s Good Friday meditations this year was written by a permanent deacon and prison guard, whose work he said consists of reminding people inside that “with God, no sin will ever have the last word”.
“To defend the hope of people who are resigned, frightened by the thought that one day they will be released and risk being rejected by society again”: that is how the deacon and warden summed up his ministry behind bars.