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Way of the Cross highlights victory of love

A French biblical scholar not only wrote the meditations to guide Pope Francis' 2017 celebration of the Via Crucis at Rome's Colosseum, she also designed her own set of Bible-based Stations of the Cross.

Pope Francis asked Anne-Marie Pelletier to share her reflections with the worldwide audience that follows the stations on the night of Good Friday. She is the first wife, mother and grandmother to author meditations for the papal service.

In the past, writers chosen by the popes have used either the traditional 14 stations followed by pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem or the 14 biblical stations used by St. John Paul II in 1991. The main difference is that Jesus falling three times and Veronica wiping the face of Jesus are in the traditional devotion, but not in any of the Gospels.

Pelletier's stations are a variation on St. John Paul's Scriptural Stations of the Cross. She starts with Jesus being condemned to death, rather than with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and ends with the women preparing to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb.

Because the Stations of the Cross do not have a "binding form," Pelletier told Vatican Radio, "I chose those moments that seemed particularly significant."

"I didn't think about what I wanted to say or what I wanted to transmit," she said. "Rather, my idea was to put myself on this path, to try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he went up to Golgotha."

The driving idea, she said, is that "love is stronger" than any evil. "The love that comes from God is victorious over everything. I believe the task of Christians is to give witness to that."

In the third station, "Jesus and Pilate," she said she felt it was important to show the "complicity" of Pilate and members of the Jewish Sanhedrin in condemning Jesus to death.

In the meditation, which was to be read at the Colosseum, Pelletier wrote: "For all too long, Christians have laid the blame of your condemnation on the shoulders of your people Israel. For all too long, we have failed to realize the need to accept our own complicity in sin, so as to be saved by the blood of Jesus crucified."

She titled the fourth station, "Jesus, King of Glory," and focused on the soldiers dressing Jesus in a purple robe and crowning him with a crown of thorns.

Their actions show "the banality of evil," she wrote. "How many men, women and even children are victims of violence, abuse, torture and murder in every time and place."

"Can the sufferings of yet one more innocent person really help us?" Pelletier asked people to consider.

"The scorn and contempt of Jesus' torturers reveal to us -- in an absolutely paradoxical way -- the unfathomable truth of his unique kingship, revealed as a love that seeks only the will of his father and his desire that all should be saved."

While the Gospels do not mention Jesus falling as he carried his cross, Pelletier imagined that he did "on his grueling journey, most likely under the lashings of his military escort."

"He who raised the sick from their beds, healed the crippled woman, raised the daughter of Jairus from her deathbed, made the lame walk, now lies sprawled in the dust," she wrote. "Through him, the Most High teaches us that he is at the same time -- incredible as it is -- the most lowly, ever ready to come down to us, and to descend even lower if necessary, so that no one will be lost in the depths of his or her misery."

In the prayer she wrote for the sixth station, "Jesus and Simon of Cyrene," Pelletier asks God's blessing for every act of kindness every person performs.

"Deign to acknowledge them as the truth of our humanity, which speaks louder than all acts of rejection and hatred," she prayed. "Deign to bless the men and woman of compassion who give you glory, even if they do not yet know your name."

The seventh station, "Jesus and Daughters of Jerusalem," focuses on Jesus' statement to the women, "Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children."

"These tears of women are always present in this world," Pelletier wrote. "They fall silently down their cheeks."

But women are not the only ones who weep, she said, noting the "tears of terror-stricken children and of those wounded on battlefields crying out for a mother."

She prayed that God would teach people not to scorn the tears of the poor, but rather "to have the courage to weep with them."

The French scholar's reflection on Jesus being taken down from the cross highlights the "signs of loving care and honor" with which Joseph of Arimathea lowers Jesus' body and how, in death, Jesus "is once again in hands that treat him with tenderness and compassion."

The attitude continues in the final station commemorating Jesus being laid in the tomb and the women preparing to anoint his body.

"Lord our God," she prayed, "graciously look upon and bless all that women everywhere do to revere weak and vulnerable bodies, surrounding them with kindness and respect."
 
  • Published in Vatican

Via Crucis meditations highlight victory of love

A French biblical scholar not only wrote the meditations to guide Pope Francis' 2017 celebration of the Via Crucis at Rome's Colosseum, she also designed her own set of Bible-based Stations of the Cross.

Pope Francis asked Anne-Marie Pelletier to share her reflections with the worldwide audience that follows the stations on the night of Good Friday. She is the first wife, mother and grandmother to author meditations for the papal service.

In the past, writers chosen by the popes have used either the traditional 14 stations followed by pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem or the 14 biblical stations used by St. John Paul II in 1991. The main difference is that Jesus falling three times and Veronica wiping the face of Jesus are in the traditional devotion, but not in any of the Gospels.

Pelletier's stations are a variation on St. John Paul's Scriptural Stations of the Cross. She starts with Jesus being condemned to death, rather than with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and ends with the women preparing to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb.

Because the Stations of the Cross do not have a "binding form," Pelletier told Vatican Radio, "I chose those moments that seemed particularly significant."

"I didn't think about what I wanted to say or what I wanted to transmit," she said. "Rather, my idea was to put myself on this path, to try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he went up to Golgotha."

The driving idea, she said, is that "love is stronger" than any evil. "The love that comes from God is victorious over everything. I believe the task of Christians is to give witness to that."

In the third station, "Jesus and Pilate," she said she felt it was important to show the "complicity" of Pilate and members of the Jewish Sanhedrin in condemning Jesus to death.

In the meditation, which was to be read at the Colosseum, Pelletier wrote: "For all too long, Christians have laid the blame of your condemnation on the shoulders of your people Israel. For all too long, we have failed to realize the need to accept our own complicity in sin, so as to be saved by the blood of Jesus crucified."

She titled the fourth station, "Jesus, King of Glory," and focused on the soldiers dressing Jesus in a purple robe and crowning him with a crown of thorns.

Their actions show "the banality of evil," she wrote. "How many men, women and even children are victims of violence, abuse, torture and murder in every time and place."

"Can the sufferings of yet one more innocent person really help us?" Pelletier asked people to consider.

"The scorn and contempt of Jesus' torturers reveal to us -- in an absolutely paradoxical way -- the unfathomable truth of his unique kingship, revealed as a love that seeks only the will of his father and his desire that all should be saved."

While the Gospels do not mention Jesus falling as he carried his cross, Pelletier imagined that he did "on his grueling journey, most likely under the lashings of his military escort."

"He who raised the sick from their beds, healed the crippled woman, raised the daughter of Jairus from her deathbed, made the lame walk, now lies sprawled in the dust," she wrote. "Through him, the Most High teaches us that he is at the same time -- incredible as it is -- the most lowly, ever ready to come down to us, and to descend even lower if necessary, so that no one will be lost in the depths of his or her misery."

In the prayer she wrote for the sixth station, "Jesus and Simon of Cyrene," Pelletier asks God's blessing for every act of kindness every person performs.

"Deign to acknowledge them as the truth of our humanity, which speaks louder than all acts of rejection and hatred," she prayed. "Deign to bless the men and woman of compassion who give you glory, even if they do not yet know your name."

The seventh station, "Jesus and Daughters of Jerusalem," focuses on Jesus' statement to the women, "Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children."

"These tears of women are always present in this world," Pelletier wrote. "They fall silently down their cheeks."

But women are not the only ones who weep, she said, noting the "tears of terror-stricken children and of those wounded on battlefields crying out for a mother."

She prayed that God would teach people not to scorn the tears of the poor, but rather "to have the courage to weep with them."

The French scholar's reflection on Jesus being taken down from the cross highlights the "signs of loving care and honor" with which Joseph of Arimathea lowers Jesus' body and how, in death, Jesus "is once again in hands that treat him with tenderness and compassion."

The attitude continues in the final station commemorating Jesus being laid in the tomb and the women preparing to anoint his body.

"Lord our God," she prayed, "graciously look upon and bless all that women everywhere do to revere weak and vulnerable bodies, surrounding them with kindness and respect."
 
  • Published in Vatican

Syrian refugees in Rome

The first three refugee families from Syria welcomed by the Vatican left their temporary homes to start their new lives in Italy, and three new families took their places in Vatican apartments.

The papal Almoner’s Office, which helps coordinate Pope Francis’ acts of charity, announced April 2 that two Christian families and one Muslim family moved in to the apartments that housed the first refugee families welcomed by the Vatican in late 2015 and early 2016.

The two Christian families, the papal almoner’s office said, arrived in March after “suffering kidnapping and discrimination” because of their faith.

“The first family is composed of a mother with two adolescent children, a grandmother, an aunt and another Syrian woman who lives with them,” the office said.

The second family is a young couple, who had their first child — a daughter named Stella — shortly after moving into the Vatican apartment, the Almoner’s Office said. “The mother had been kidnapped for several months by ISIS and now, in Italy, has regained serenity.”

The third family — a mother, father and two children — arrived in Italy in February 2016, the office said. The children have been attending elementary school in Italy while the mother has been attending graduate courses and currently has an internship.

The Vatican welcomed the refugee families after an appeal made by Pope Francis Sept. 6, 2015, in which he called on every parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family of refugees, given the ongoing crisis of people fleeing from war and poverty.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said that aside from providing a home for the three families, the office also continues to provide financial support to the three Syrian families whom Pope Francis brought to Italy after his visit last year to the Greek island of Lesbos and for the nine additional refugees who arrived later.
  • Published in World

Ecumenism is a common journey

The path toward Christian unity can't be found isolated in a laboratory hashing out theological differences, but rather by walking together on a common journey, Pope Francis said.

While theological dialogue is necessary, Catholics and Anglicans can continue to "help each other in our needs, in our lives and help each other spiritually," the pope said Feb. 26 while answering questions from parishioners of All Saints' Anglican Church in Rome. 

"This cannot be done in a laboratory; it must be done walking together along the way. We are on a journey and while we walk, we can have these (theological) discussions," he said. 

The pope made history as the first pontiff to visit the Anglican parish, which was celebrating the 200th anniversary of its establishment in Rome. 

Invited by the Anglican community, Pope Francis took part in an evening liturgy and blessed an icon of Christ the Savior to commemorate the occasion. 

The prayer service included a "twinning" pledge between All Saints' Anglican Church and the Catholic parish that shares its name in Rome. As Pope Francis looked on, the pastors of both parishes signed a pledge to collaborate in joint retreats, works of charity and sharing meals with each other. 

Rev. Jonathan Boardman, chaplain of the Anglican church in Rome, presented the pope with several gifts that highlight his concern for the poor and the marginalized, including a promise to serve meals to the homeless once a week in his name.

He also said 50 English Bibles will be given in the pope's name to Anglican nuns in Rome who minister to the city's prostitutes.

The Anglican community also presented Pope Francis with a basket of homemade jams and chutneys as well as a Simnel cake, a traditional fruitcake typically served on the fourth Sunday of Lent and adorned with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles, minus Judas. 

After welcoming the pope to the parish, Rev. Boardman noted that when divisions first began, the title "Bishop of Rome" was once used by Anglicans as an insult "or an attempt to belittle it."

"Today for us recognizing your unique role in witnessing to the Gospel and leading Christ's church, it is ironic that what we once used in a cruel attempt to 'put you in your place' has become the key to your pastoral kindness in being alongside us and so many other Christians around the world," Rev. Boardman said. 

The pope thanked the congregation and acknowledged that much has changed between Anglicans and Catholics, "who in the past viewed each other with suspicion and hostility."

"Today, with gratitude to God, we recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism. As friends and pilgrims, we wish to walk the path together, to follow our Lord Jesus Christ together," he said. 

He also emphasized the need for Catholics and Anglicans to work together to help those in need in order to build "true, solid communion" through a "united witness to charity."

Following the prayer service, the pope took some moments to answer questions from several members of the Anglican church. 

Asked what was his take on current relations between Catholics and Anglicans, the pope said that while relations between the two communities have been at times "two steps forward, half step back," they are still good and "we care for each other like brothers and sisters."

Ernest, an Anglican seminarian, also asked the pope whether Anglicans and Catholics in Europe can learn from the example of churches in Asia, Africa and the Pacific whose "ecumenical relations are better and more creative."

Pope Francis said the younger churches "have a different vitality" and have a "stronger need" to collaborate. 

An example of this, he added, was a request made by Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian bishops of South Sudan for him to visit the country along with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury. 

"This creativity came from them, the young church. And we are thinking about whether it can be done, if the situation is too difficult down there. But we must do it because they -- the three (bishops) -- together want peace and they are working together for peace," the pope said.
  • Published in World

Pope highlights sanctity of life in Year of Mercy visits

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis donned a green hospital gown over his white cassock and entered the neonatal unit of a Rome hospital, peering in the incubators, making the sign of the cross and encouraging worried parents.

The trip to the babies' ward of Rome's San Giovanni Hospital and then to a hospice Sept. 16 were part of a series of Mercy Friday activities Pope Francis has been doing once a month during the Year of Mercy.

By visiting the ailing newborns and the dying on the same day, the Vatican said, Pope Francis "wanted to give a strong sign of the importance of life from its first moment to its natural end."

"Welcoming life and guaranteeing its dignity at every moment of its development is a teaching Pope Francis has underlined many times," the statement said. With the September visits he wanted to put "a concrete and tangible seal" on his teaching that living a life of mercy means giving special attention to those in the most precarious situations.

During the Mercy Friday visits, Pope Francis has spent time with migrants, the aged, at a recovery community for former drug addicts and at a shelter for women rescued from human trafficking and prostitution.

Pope Francis stopped by the emergency room of San Giovanni Hospital before going to the neonatal unit, where 12 little patients were being treated. Five of the newborns, including a pair of twins, were in intensive care and were intubated, the Vatican said. The pope also went to the maternity ward and nursery upstairs, greeting new parents and holding their bundles of joy.

At the neonatal unit, the Vatican said, the pope was "welcomed by the surprised personnel" and, like everyone else, put on a gown and followed all the hygiene procedures. 

Leaving the hospital, he drove across town to the Villa Speranza hospice, which hosts 30 terminally ill patients. The hospice is connected to Rome's Gemelli Hospital.

Pope Francis went into each of the rooms and greeted each patient, the Vatican said. "There was great surprise on the part of all -- patients and relatives -- who experienced moments of intense emotion with tears and smiles of joy."
  • Published in Vatican
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