EASTER, THE RESURRECTION AND RECONCILIATION AMONG TWO PEOPLES – PASQUETTA IN ITALY: POPE FRANCIS WELCOMES 50,000 TEENS

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.

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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.

WAY OF THE CROSS: MEDITATIONS FROM A CORRECTIONS FACILITY

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).

WAY OF THE CROSS: MEDITATIONS FROM A CORRECTIONS FACILITY

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