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VATICAN LETTER Apr-1-2010 (820 words) Backgrounder. With photos to come. xxxi

Pope's Way of the Cross: 2010 service focuses on essentials of faith

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Instead of sharp commentary on current social ills or controversies, the meditations for Pope Benedict XVI's Way of the Cross service this year were a pared-down catechesis on the essentials of the Christian faith.

Even the meditations' author said some might find the straightforward text surprising given that he is normally very outspoken and often addresses events unfolding in Italy and in the church.

Retired Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini was a leading voice of the church in the last two decades as he served as head of the Italian bishops' conference from 1991 to 2006 and as papal vicar of the Diocese of Rome from 1991 to 2008.

But the 79-year-old cardinal said he wanted to keep the commentary and prayers for the Good Friday evening service at Rome's Colosseum simple and to the point.

Because millions of people from all over the world would be watching April 2, "I think it will be a great occasion to help people get to the heart of our faith more deeply or to rediscover it for those who have been distanced" from the church, he said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, March 30.

Each year, the pope chooses a different person to write the series of prayers and reflections that are read aloud during the solemn, torch-lit ceremony.

In years past, many of those chosen to write the Good Friday meditations have used the opportunity to call the world's attention to modern-day examples of unjust persecution, the suffering of the innocent, and the compassion and hope that can be found amid pain and despair.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong used the platform of the Way of the Cross prayers in 2008 to talk about religious intolerance and how the church, especially in China, "is going through the dark times of persecution."

Less than a month before his election as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote the meditations and spoke out strongly against sex abuse and clerical scandals. "How much filth there is in the church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him," he wrote.

Even as the church is again reeling from revelations of clerical sex abuse in Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, Cardinal Ruini said his meditations "do not allude to any specific issues, but -- by simply following the Gospels -- they highlight those betrayals that weighed particularly heavily on the shoulders and heart of Christ."

In his meditation on the second station -- "Jesus carries his cross" -- Cardinal Ruini wrote about how the human conscience possesses a light of goodness that shines to direct humanity along the right path. But sometimes "this light becomes obscured by resentment, by unspeakable cravings, by the perversions of our heart. And then we become cruel, capable of the worst, even of things unbelievable."

Cardinal Ruini wrote an opening meditation and 14 other reflections for the stations that follow the traditional Catholic set, which include events not in the Bible, such as St. Veronica wiping Jesus' face.

Each meditation contrasts human experience with the mystery of faith, such as the need to recognize the evil and hypocrisy within oneself while understanding God "is rich in mercy" and "has called us his friends."

The Way of the Cross, like life's unpredictable path, is marked by penance and pain, as well as conversion, joy and gratitude, the cardinal wrote.

For the fifth station -- "Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross" -- Cardinal Ruini said the crosses that people must bear in life, like the loss of a loved one or illness, are easily seen as a sign of bad luck or an onslaught of tragedy.

But often the tragic opens up a new door "leading to a greater good," he wrote. Jesus calls on his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him, which, he said, "are the most difficult words in the entire Gospel" for the faithful to hear and apply in real life.

Even more challenging are the times when "tragedies remain simply painful failures;" then, he wrote, "only by believing in the Resurrection can we meaningfully advance along the way of the cross."

In other meditations, the cardinal asked that people be more like Veronica who came to Christ's assistance and that they be moved with compassion for those suffering in the world, offering them concrete acts of love and solidarity.

And he called for courage during times when it seems so much has been lost and when it may feel like God no longer cares or doesn't even exist. Jesus, too, endured such despair when nailed to the cross, he wrote.

But Jesus "tells us with his whole self, by his life and by his death, that we ought to trust in God. We can believe him," Cardinal Ruini wrote.


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