By Courtney Grogan
Pope Francis' prayer at Good Friday's Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum included a plea for abused youth and for the Church, whom he said is continually under attack.
“Lord Jesus, help us to see in Your Cross all the crosses of the world … the cross of little ones wounded in their innocence and in their purity,” Pope Francis said in his prayer to conclude the Way of the Cross April 19.
Francis also prayed for “the cross of the Church, your Bride, who feels herself continually attacked from inside and outside.”
The meditations for this year's Way of the Cross at the Colosseum — written by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, founder of “Slaves No More” — included reflections on the suffering endured by victims of human trafficking today.
“Like the young girl with a slim body we met one evening in Rome while men in luxury cars lined up to exploit her. She might have been the age of their own children,” the meditation for the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, stated.
“Cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children,” the prayer that followed stated. “Little ones used as cheap goods, bought and sold at will. Lord, we ask you to have mercy and compassion on this sick world. Help us rediscover the beauty of our dignity, and that of others, as human beings created in your image and likeness.”
Pope Francis personally selected Sister Bonetti to write the meditations for the Stations of the Cross. Bonetti, 80, is a Consolata Missionary Sister from Northern Italy, who aids women and girls in Italy to leave prostitution and trafficking.
“Lord Jesus, it is easy to wear a crucifix on a chain around our neck or to use it to decorate the walls of our beautiful cathedrals or homes. It is less easy to encounter and acknowledge today's newly crucified: the homeless; the young deprived of hope, without work and without prospects; the immigrants relegated to slums at the fringe of our societies after having endured untold suffering,” Bonetti wrote in her Way of the Cross meditations.
Pope Francis presided over the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum – a Roman practice that dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.
After a pause, the tradition was revived by St. Pope Paul VI in 1964. During St. John Paul II's papacy, the Colosseum stations became a worldwide television event; the pope himself used to carry the cross.
“We have gathered in this place where thousands of people once suffered martyrdom for their fidelity to Christ,” Bonetti wrote in her introduction to her station meditations.
“We want to walk this via dolorosa in union with the poor, the outcast of our societies and all those who even now are enduring crucifixion as victims of our narrowmindedness, our institutions and our laws, our blindness and selfishness, but especially our indifference and hardness of heart,” she continued.
Pope Francis prayed to see Christ in “the cross of consecrated persons who, along the way, have forgotten their first love” and “the cross of our common home that seriously withers under our eyes, selfish and blinded by greed and power.”
This year's stations of the cross meditations also included prayers for children who are exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, and for migrants who died in shipwrecks.
Human trafficking is an important topic to Pope Francis, who has spoken out against human exploitation throughout his pontificate. The pope has often invoked the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, once a slave herself, to intercede to bring about an end to “this plague.”
While in the past, the pope himself used to carry the cross from station to station around the Colosseum, it is now carried by individuals and families.
This year cross-bearers included priests from Syria and the Holy Land, several religious sisters, and a man in a wheelchair accompanied by volunteers with the Italian National Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines. Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Vicar General of Rome, carried the cross for the first and last stations.
In his prayer at the end of the Via Crucis, the pope prayed for “the cross of your children who, believing in You and trying to live according to Your word, find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their relatives and their peers.”
“Lord Jesus, revive in us the hope of the resurrection and your definitive victory against every evil and every death,” Pope Francis prayed.