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VATICAN LETTER Apr-11-2006 (810 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Way of the Cross: Simple service at Colosseum has global reach

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the shadows of Rome's torch-lit Colosseum April 14, Pope Benedict XVI will lead the first Way of the Cross service of his pontificate.

A year ago he had written the meditations on the 14 stations for Pope John Paul II, who was forced to follow the event by television in the papal apartments.

This year, the Vatican decided to take special care to help others watching on television follow the event prayerfully.

While tens of thousands of copies of the meditations and prayers are given to pilgrims and tourists at the Colosseum, in the past the millions of people watching on television could get the text only by going to the Vatican Web site as the rite was about to begin.

For the first time, this year the Vatican publishing house sent 103,000 copies of the booklets to bookstores throughout Italy. And Germany's Herder publishing house simultaneously released a German translation of the text.

In addition, the Vatican posted the original Italian text April 11 on its Web site -- www.vatican.va -- along with translations in English, French, German, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.

Pope Benedict asked Archbishop Angelo Comastri, his vicar for Vatican City State, to write the meditations for the 2006 nighttime ritual.

Each year the pope asks a different person to write a commentary and prayers to help people realize that even today the sin and evil that led to Christ's suffering and death continue.

In the 2005 meditations, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger focused on how people, including those who call themselves Christians, push God to the margins of their lives, ignoring traditional moral values.

But he also mentioned "the filth" and sins of church members, including abusive priests.

"Lord," he had written, "your church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side.

"The soiled garments and face of your church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again," he wrote.

Just as the Way of the Cross focuses on Christ's suffering with full awareness that he rose from the dead, the reflections on human sinfulness are accompanied by prayers for forgiveness and confidence that goodness and holiness will be victorious.

Cardinal Ratzinger's reflection last year ended with a prayer to Christ: "You arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your church. Save and sanctify us all."

Archbishop Comastri, in this year's meditations, was no less contemporary in looking at the sins and divisions that, he said, add weight to the cross Christ must bear.

But he also drew from Pope Benedict's first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love") to remind those who follow the Stations of the Cross that Christ's death and resurrection are the supreme sign of God's love and his desire to forgive.

"In his death, Jesus filled death itself with love; he filled it with the presence of God," the archbishop wrote in the introduction.

He asked participants at the Colosseum to join in praying that God would break the chains that keep people from helping one another and showing concern for one another.

"Our affluence is making us less human, our entertainment has become a drug, a source of alienation, and our society's incessant, tedious message is an invitation to die of selfishness," the archbishop wrote.

Because Christ is divine, he wrote, the fact that he fell under the weight of the cross "cannot be a sign of weakness, but only a sign of love: a message of love for us," a warning of the power and weight of sin.

In presenting the stations and looking at modern sins, Archbishop Comastri denounced threats to the traditional family, prostitution, abortion, the manipulation of human embryos and the growing divide between the world's rich and poor.

"Surely God is deeply pained by the attack on the family," he said, describing efforts to redefine the family as resulting from "a diabolical pride aimed at eliminating the family."

In fact, Archbishop Comastri wrote, "the family is one of God's dreams entrusted to humanity; the family is a spark from heaven shared with all mankind: the family is the cradle where we were born and are constantly reborn in love."

Throughout the meditations and prayers, the archbishop repeated the refrain that Christ died out of love for all men and women.

Jesus was nailed to the cross to tell all people that his love is "true, sincere, faithful and irrevocable," the archbishop said.

But, he wrote, "the story does not end with the tomb, instead it bursts forth from the tomb. Just as Jesus promised us, it happened, and it will happen again!"

- - -

Editor's Note: The text is available in English at www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/2006/documents/ns_lit_doc_20060414_via-crucis_en.html


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