EASTER, THE RESURRECTION AND RECONCILIATION AMONG TWO PEOPLES
It has been a truly wonderful, very special Easter this year in Rome! Huge numbers of tourists fill the city’s squares and restaurants and monuments and churches! After two years of Covid restrictions, for the first time since Easter 2019, there was the Good Friday Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at the Colosseum, and Easter Sunday Mass was once again celebrated in St. Peter’s Square!
The police estimated that 100,000 were present in and near St. Peter’s Square Sunday, including the thousands who filled Via della Conciliazione, almost down to Castel Sant’Angelo! Gorgeous weather has framed all events of this splendid Holy Week and Easter season!
Holy Saturday night, I had dinner at a restaurant, Pummarola, owned by a friend. Towards the end of my dinner, Salih sat down and we began talking and he asked a couple seated one table over where they were from. They said they were both students and very close friends and visiting from Israel: she was Ukrainian and he was Russian!
I was especially touched by their close friendship, given, of course, the current situation in Ukraine, invaded in February by Russia. We began a fascinating discussion and I only wished we’d met earlier in the evening, not just as we were paying our bills!
I could not help but think back to the previous night, to the Via Crucis at the Colosseum where the meditations and reflections were written by families – families with adopted children, a widow with two children, families who had lost a child, families hit by many hardships, families who wanted children and had none, families with special needs sons and daughters. Each family carried the cross at the specific station assigned to them.
The Vatican published all the reflections several days before Good Friday.
At the 13th Station – Jesus Dies on the Cross – two women, very good friends and colleagues at a Rome medical center – Albina from Russia and Irina from Ukraine – carried the cross. However, the reflections they wrote caused great concern among Ukrainians, and the first to express his disapproval of the written text, which focused on the women’s angst, their sorrow, their pain at the current war, was Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. He said “such an idea (is) untimely, ambiguous and such that it does not take into account the context of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.” He was not alone on his criticism of the Via Crucis text.
While the printed booklet, published online and carried by the faithful Friday at the Colosseum did carry the original text, as the event unfolded at the Colosseum, we learned that the prepared text, in a last minute change by the Vatican, was not read. Instead, a reader said: “In the face of death, silence is more eloquent than words. Let us therefore pause in prayerful silence and each one in his heart pray for peace in the world.”
The two women did carry the cross and exchanged knowing glances between them. It was quite an extraordinary moment for anyone following this story related to the 13th Station.
This was definitely a coin with two sides.
On the one side are those who agree that the Vatican did the right thing by not having the original text read, thus showing it shared the deep feelings of the Ukrainian people who daily watch their family members and friends die, see their homes and businesses destroyed and lose great numbers as people flee to neighboring countries, becoming refugees. They asked: how could the Vatican seem to equate aggressor and victim?
On the other hand are those who, like Pope Francis, sincerely believe that reconciliation is possible, healing is possible.
As Andrea Gagliarducci wrote in his Monday Vatican column: “Pope Francis wished the cross to be carried at the 13th station by two women, one Russian and one Ukrainian, who were already friends, to testify to the possibility of reconciliation between peoples. Pope Francis wanted to exemplify his ideal of social friendship outlined in Fratelli Tutti with this gesture. For him, it was a sign that peace is possible and that this peace comes from friendship among peoples.”
He wrote much more but this captured one side of that coin.
As I sat and spoke briefly with the couple seated at the table next to me, saw their friendship, but also saw how they also shared pain at the thought that the homeland of one of them had invaded the homeland of the other, I almost could see both sides of the coin.
Their friendship, as that of Irina and Albina, was not a question of “reconciliation between peoples.” They already had a deep friendship, irrespective of the war, and knew they’d have to work hard to maintain that, and to perhaps even become instruments of reconciliation among the peoples of their homeland.
All of this really makes one pause in prayer. Lord, what is the right ‘feeling,’ the right emotion, the right judgment at this time?
PASQUETTA IN ITALY: POPE FRANCIS WELCOMES 50,000 TEENS
As I write, it is Pasquetta – Little Easter – a big holiday in Italy and the Vatican. It’s also known as Monday of the Angel – the Angel, of course, who told Mary Magdalene and the disciples on that first Easter that the tomb was empty because “He is Risen!”
This is a day for families and friends to be together as the Easter break holidays end. Vatican employees are also enjoying the last of their six days off at Easter, starting Holy Thursday and ending tomorrow. However, I’m sure the people happiest to have a day to breathe after so many arduous Holy Week liturgies, are priests!
After preparing a segment for “At Home with Joy and Joy” today, I decided to go to Homebaked for lunch. Jesse and I saw big numbers of young people walking by on both sides of Via di Porta Cavalleggeri. There were many large groups of youth walking together who identified themselves by wearing identical T-shirts, scarves, hats or carrying signs that indicated who they were and from what diocese or parish.
After lunch I went to a nearby bus stop to catch a bus for an errand I wanted to run (some but not all stores are open on such a holiday). After 35 minutes and no bus, I decided no errand was worth the wait, but I had to say I was totally amused during the wait simply by watching the happy, smiling, singing Italian teens make their way to St. Peter’s Square for their meeting at 6 pm today with Pope Francis. And I heard several languages other than Italian!
I know that between 50 and 100 youth walked by each minute of the 35 that I waited. About 50,000 are expected at the encounter with the Holy Father, according to the Vatican.
The theme of this joyful Easter encounter, promoted by the National Service for Youth of the Italian Episcopal Conference, is “Follow Me.” The teens are being led by bishops, priests, men and women religious, by educators and by leaders of associations, movements, communities and groups such as scouts.