This is the homily preached by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, at the Good Friday Passion liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is powerful and thought-provoking.


St. Gregory the Great said that Scripture “grows with its readers”, cum legentibus crescit.[1] It reveals meanings always new according to the questions people have in their hearts as they read it. And this year we read the account of the Passion with a question—rather with a cry—in our hearts that is rising up over the whole earth. We need to seek the answer that the word of God gives it.

The Gospel reading we have just listened to is the account of the objectively greatest evil committed on earth. We can look at it from two different angles: either from the front or from the back, that is, either from its causes or from its effects. If we stop at the historical causes of Christ’s death, we get confused and everyone will be tempted to say, as Pilate did, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Mt 27:24). The cross is better understood by its effects than by its causes. And what were the effects of Christ’s death? Being justified through faith in him, being reconciled and at peace with God, and being filled with the hope of eternal life! (see Rom 53:1-5).

But there is one effect that the current situation can help us to grasp in particular. The cross of Christ has changed the meaning of pain and human suffering—of every kind of suffering, physical and moral. It is no longer punishment, a curse. It was redeemed at its root when the Son of God took it upon himself. What is the surest proof that the drink someone offers you is not poisoned? It is if that person drinks from the same cup before you do. This is what God has done: on the cross he drank, in front of the whole world, the cup of pain down to its dregs. This is how he showed us it is not poisoned, but that there is a pearl at the bottom of it.

And not only the pain of those who have faith, but of every human pain. He died for all human beings: “And when I am lifted up from the earth,” he said, “I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn 12:32).

Everyone, not just some! St. John Paul II wrote from his hospital bed after his attempted assassination, “To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ.”[2] Thanks to the cross of Christ, suffering has also become in its own way a kind of “universal sacrament of salvation” for the human race.

What light does all of this shed on the dramatic situation that humanity is going through now? Here too we need to look at the effects more than at the causes—not just the negative ones we hear about every day in heart-wrenching reports but also the positive ones that only a more careful observation can help us grasp.

The pandemic of Coronavirus has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence. A Jewish rabbi has written that we have the opportunity to celebrate a very special paschal exodus this year, that “from the exile of consciousness” [3]. It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us. As a psalm in the Bible says, “In his prime, man does not understand. / He is like the beasts—they perish” (Ps 49:21). How true that is!

While he was painting frescoes in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the artist James Thornhill became so excited at a certain point about his fresco that he stepped back to see it better and was unaware he was about to fall over the edge of the scaffolding. A horrified assistant understood that crying out to him would have only hastened the disaster. Without thinking twice, he dipped a brush in paint and hurled it at the middle of the fresco. The master, appalled, sprang forward. His work was damaged, but he was saved.

God does this with us sometimes: he disrupts our projects and our calm to save us from the abyss we don’t see. But we need to be careful not to be deceived. God is not the one who hurled the brush at the sparkling fresco of our technological society. God is our ally, not the ally of the virus! He himself says in the Bible, “I have . . . plans for your welfare and not for woe” (Jer 29:11). If these scourges were punishments of God, it would not be explained why they strike equally good and bad, and why the poor usually bring the worst consequences of them. Are they more sinners than others?

No! The one who cried one day for Lazarus’ death cries today for the scourge that has fallen on humanity. Yes, God “suffers”, like every father and every mother. When we will find out this one day, we will be ashamed of all the accusations we made against him in life. God participates in our pain to overcome it. “Being supremely good – wrote St. Augustine – God would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, he is able to bring forth good out of evil.”[4]

Did God the Father possibly desire the death of his Son in order to draw good out of it? No, he simply permitted human freedom to take its course, making it serve, however, his own purposes and not those of human beings. This is also the case for natural disasters like earthquakes and plagues. He does not bring them about. He has given nature a kind of freedom as well, qualitatively different of course than that of human beings, but still a form of freedom—freedom to evolve according to its own laws of development. He did not create a world as a programmed clock whose least little movement could be anticipated. It is what some call “chance” but the Bible calls instead “the wisdom of God.”

The other positive fruit of the present health crisis is the feeling of solidarity. When, in the memory of humanity, have the people of all nations ever felt themselves so united, so equal, so less in conflict than at this moment of pain? Never so much as now have we experienced the truth of the words of one of our great poets: “Peace, you peoples! Too deep is the mystery of the prostrate earth.”[5] We have forgotten about building walls. The virus knows no borders. In an instant it has broken down all the barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth, and power. We should not revert to that prior time when this moment has passed. As the Holy Father has exhorted us, we should not waste this opportunity. Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain. Returning to the way things were is the “recession” we should fear the most.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again. (Is 2:4)

This is the moment to put into practice something of the prophecy of Isaiah whose fulfillment humanity has long been waiting for. Let us say “Enough!” to the tragic race toward arms. Say it with all your might, you young people, because it is above all your destiny that is at stake. Let us devote the unlimited resources committed to weapons to the goals that we now realize are most necessary and urgent: health, hygiene, food, the fight against poverty, stewardship of creation. Let us leave to the next generation a world poorer in goods and money, if need be, but richer in its humanity.

The word of God tells us the first thing we should do at times like these is to cry out to God. He himself is the one who puts on people’s lips the words to cry out to him, at times harsh words of lament and almost of accusation: “Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? / Rise up! Do not reject us forever! . . . Rise up, help us! / Redeem us in your mercy” (Ps 44, 24, 27). “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38).

Does God perhaps like to be petitioned so that he can grant his benefits? Can our prayer perhaps make God change his plans? No, but there are things, St. Thomas Aquinas explains, that God has decided to grant us as the fruit both of his grace and of our prayer, almost as though sharing with his creatures the credit for the benefit received.[6] God is the one who prompts us to do it: “Seek and you will find,” Jesus said; “knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7).

When the Israelites were bitten by poisonous serpents in the desert, God commanded Moses to lift up a serpent of bronze on a pole, and whoever looked at it would not die. Jesus appropriated this symbol to himself when he told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). We too at this moment have been bitten by an invisible, poisonous “serpent.” Let us gaze upon the one who was “lifted up” for us on the cross. Let us adore him on behalf of ourselves and of the whole human race. The one who looks on him with faith does not die. And if that person dies, it will be to enter eternal life.

“After three days I will rise”, Jesus had foretold (cf. Mt 9:31). We too, after these days that we hope will be short, shall rise and come out of the tombs of our homes. Not however to return to the former life like Lazarus, but to a new life, like Jesus. A more fraternal, more human, more Christian life!


In the event that you missed EWTN’s airing earlier today of the prayer service before the relics of the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, you can watch it here. It was one of the most extraordinary, profound, moving, unique religious moments I have ever witnessed. Breathless in its simple beauty and powerful in its readings! I cannot remember the last time I had tears in my eyes for such an event. It will be part of every Good Friday from now on! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7OIwsyM9zE

And tomorrow, Holy Saturday, at 5 pm Rome time, stay with EWTN for the live prayer service before the Holy Shroud of Turin, a unique exposition of the shroud in this extraordinary Holy Week marked by empty churches due to the coronavirus pandemic. Watch on TV or online (www.ewtn.com – then go to WATCH LIVE).


The Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross meditations for Good Friday this year have been prepared by prisoners, volunteers, family members and others, associated with a corrections facility in Northern Italy.
By Francesca Merlo (vaticannews)

Each meditation represents a life and a story. Each one is associated with the fourteen stations of this year’s Via Crucis or Way of the Cross. The meditations have been written by people whose lives are in some way connected to the “Due Palazzi” correctional facility in Padua, northern Italy. They were collected by the prison chaplain, Fr. Marco Pozza, and journalist, Tatiana Mario.

Lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Italy began on 8 March. Prison riots around the country followed when prisoners were told they could no longer receive visitors. Two days after the riots, Pope Francis offered Mass for prisoners: “I would like to pray for those who are in prison”, he said. “They are suffering, and we must be near to them in prayer, asking that the Lord might help them and console them in this difficult moment”.

First Station: Jesus is condemned to death
The author of the first meditation is serving a life sentence. “My crucifixion began as a child”, he says, explaining that his stutter made him an outcast. He says he feels more like Barabbas than Jesus. Sometimes he weeps. “After 29 years in prison I have not yet lost the ability to cry, to feel ashamed of my past, and the evil I have done”. In the “non-life” he lived previously, he “always sought something that was life”, he says.
Today, strange as it may seem, “prison has become my salvation”, he adds.
If, for some, I am still Barabbas, that does not make me angry: I know in my heart that the Innocent One, condemned like me, came to find me in prison to teach me about life.

Second Station: Jesus takes up his Cross
The parents of a girl who was brutally murdered recount how theirs “was a life of sacrifices based on work and family”. They used to ask themselves: “Why has this evil overwhelmed us?”. They could find no peace. “At the moment when despair seems to take over, the Lord comes to meet us in different ways”, they say. “He gives us the grace to love each other like newlyweds, supporting each other, even with difficulty”.

Today, they continue to open their doors to all those in need.
The commandment to perform acts of charity to us is a kind of salvation: we do not want to surrender to evil. God’s love is truly capable of renewing life because, before us, his Son Jesus underwent human suffering so as to experience true compassion.

Third Station: Jesus falls for the first time
“It was the first time I fell. But for me that fall was death”. The third meditation is written by a prisoner. He did not know about the evil growing inside him, he says. After a difficult life, one evening “like an avalanche…. anger killed my kindness… I took someone’s life”. After considering committing suicide in prison, he found people who gave him back the faith he had lost, he says.
My first fall was failing to realize that goodness exists in this world. My second, the murder, was really its consequence, for I was already dead inside.

Fourth Station: Jesus meets his Mother
The author of the fourth meditation is a mother whose son is in prison. She says she was not tempted “even for a second” to abandon her son in the face of his sentence. That day, she says, “the whole family went to prison with him”. She describes people “pointing fingers” like knives, and wounds that “grow with every passing day”. She has entrusted her only son to Mary and says she feels her closeness. “I confide my fears to Mary alone, because she herself felt them on her way to Calvary”.
In her heart she knew that her Son would not escape human evil, yet she did not abandon Him. She stood there sharing in His suffering, keeping Him company by her presence. I think of Jesus looking up, seeing those eyes so full of love, and not feeling alone. I would like to do the same.

Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
The author of the fifth meditation is a prisoner. He says he hopes to bring joy to someone someday. “Everyone knows a Simon of Cyrene”, he explains. It is the nickname of those who help others carry their cross up their own Mount Calvary. He describes his cellmate as another Simon of Cyrene: someone who lived on a bench, without a home or possessions.
His only wealth was a box of candies. He has a sweet tooth, but he insisted that I bring it to my wife the first time she visited me: she burst into tears at that unexpected and thoughtful gesture.

Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
The catechist and author of the sixth meditation wipes away many tears, just like Veronica. “They flood uncontrollably from hearts that are broken”, he says. In the dark reality of prison, he describes meeting desperate souls, trying to understand why evil exists. Finding an answer is hard, he says. He asks how Jesus would wipe away their tears if He were in that position. How would Jesus ease the anguish of these men, he asks. So, he tries to do what he believes Jesus would do.
In the same way that Christ looks at our own weaknesses and limitations with eyes full of love. Everyone, including those in prison, has an opportunity each day to become a new person, thanks to Christ’s look which does not judge, but gives life and hope.

Seventh Station: Jesus falls for the second time
The prisoner responsible for the seventh meditation says he often walked past prisons, thinking to himself he would never “end up in there”. Then he was convicted of drug dealing, and found himself in what he calls the “cemetery of the living dead”. Now, he says, he did not know what he was doing.
I am trying to rebuild my life with the help of God. I owe it to my parents… I owe it above all to myself: the idea that evil can continue to guide my life is intolerable. This is what has become my way of the cross.

Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
The author of the eighth meditation describes how her whole life was shattered when her father was sentenced to life in prison. She has been travelling around Italy for twenty-eight years, following her father as he is moved from prison to prison. Deprived of her father’s love, and his presence on her wedding day, she has had to cope with her mother’s depression as well.
It’s true: there are parents who, out of love, learn to wait for their children to grow up. In my own case, for love, I wait for my Dad’s return. For people like us, hope is a duty.

Ninth Station: Jesus falls for the third time
The author of the ninth meditation recognizes the many times he has fallen. And the many times he has risen. Like Peter, he has sought and found a thousand excuses to justify his mistakes, he says.
It is true that my life was shattered into a thousand pieces, but the wonderful thing is that those pieces can still be put together. It is not easy, but it is the only thing that still makes sense here.

Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments
The author of the tenth meditation is a teacher. Just as Jesus was stripped of His garments, so he has seen many of his students “stripped of all dignity… and respect for themselves and others” in prison. They are helpless, frustrated by their weakness, often unable to understand the wrong they have done. Yet, at times they are like newborn babies who can still be taught, he says.
Even though I love this job, I sometimes struggle to find the strength to carry on. In so sensitive a service, we need to feel that we are not abandoned, in order to be able to support the many lives entrusted to us, lives that each day run the risk of ruin.

Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
The author of the eleventh meditation is a priest who was falsely accused, and later acquitted. His own “Way of the Cross” lasted ten years, he says, during which he had to face suspicion, accusations and insults. Fortunately, he also encountered his own versions of Simon of Cyrene who helped him carry the weight of his cross. “Together with me, many of them prayed for the young man who accused me”, he says.
The day on which I was fully acquitted, I found myself happier than I had been ten years before: I experienced first-hand God working in my life. Hanging on the cross, I discovered the meaning of my priesthood.

Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross
The author of the twelfth meditation is a judge. No magistrate, he says, can “crucify a man… to the sentence he is serving”. True justice is only possible through mercy, he adds. Mercy helps you find the goodness that is never completely extinguished, despite all the wrongs committed. To do this, one must learn how to “recognize the person hidden behind the crime committed”, he says.
In this process, it sometimes becomes possible to glimpse a horizon that can instill hope in that person and once his sentence has been served, to return to society and hope that people will welcome him back after having rejected him. For all of us, even those convicted of a crime, are children of the same human family.

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the Cross
“Prisoners have always been my teachers”, writes the religious Brother, author of the thirteenth meditation. He has volunteered in prisons for sixty years. “We Christians often delude ourselves that we are better than others”, he says. In His life, Christ willingly chose to stand on the side of the least. “Passing by one cell after another, I see the death that lives within”, he says. But Christ tells him to keep going, to take them in His arms again. So he stops, and listens.
This is the only way I know to accept that person, and avert my gaze from the mistake he made. Only in this way will he be able to trust and regain the strength to surrender to God’s goodness, and see himself differently.

Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb
A corrections officer has written the concluding meditation for this year’s Way of the Cross. Every day he witnesses first-hand the suffering of those who live in prison. “A good person can become cruel, and a bad person can become better”, he says. It depends on that person. But prison changes you, he adds. Personally, he is committed to giving another chance to those who have chosen what is wrong. I work hard to keep hope alive in people left to themselves, frightened at the thought of one day leaving and possibly being rejected yet again by society. In prison, I remind them that, with God, no sin will ever have the last word.

LINK TO BOOKLET FOR VIA CRUCIS 2020: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2020/20200410-libretto-via-crucis.pdf