By Adriana Masotti
The Way of the Cross on Good Friday to be led by Pope Francis will feature meditations and drawings composed by children and young people of Rome belonging to the parish of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda, the Agesci scout group "Foligno I" and the guests of two family homes in Rome. They will also read them during the ceremony in St. Peter's Square presided over by Pope Francis.
In their simplicity and concreteness, the meditations written by the children have the power to deeply touch the heart, to make us think and work for a better and more just world. The texts invite us to ask questions about our lives and the need to change ourselves and our world.
The many crosses of the world's children
The suffering of children can often be overlooked. In the introduction to the booklet, the children when turning to Jesus emphasize: "Dear Jesus, You know that we children also have crosses to carry. Crosses that are no lighter or heavier than those of adults, but are still real crosses, crosses that weigh us down even at night. Only you know what they are and take them seriously. Only you." The crosses are the fear of the dark, of loneliness and abandonment, also due to the pandemic, the experience of one's own limitations, being teased by others, the feeling of being poorer than one's peers, sorrow for quarrels in the family. But some are suffering because "there are children in our world who have nothing to eat, who cannot go to school, who are being used and forced to become soldiers." You, Jesus, are always close to us and you never abandon us, the children conclude, "help us to carry our daily crosses as you carried yours."
Accusing the innocent and lack of courage
First Station: Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus to death. The meditation recounts an episode that happened in a first-grade classroom: a child, Mark, is accused of stealing a classmate's snack. Someone knows that he is innocent but does not intervene to defend him. The narrator is ashamed of that lack of courage; he acted like Pilate and now regrets having chosen the easier path. " Sometimes we only listen to the voices of those who think and do evil, while doing what is right is like an uphill road, full of obstacles and difficulties. But we have Jesus at our side, always ready to support and help us."
Actions can hurt others
Second Station: Jesus takes up his cross. The passage in Luke’s gospel describes Jesus being mocked and beaten by those who held him in custody. Mockery taking place among children is not uncommon, even to the extreme of bullying, as in the case of Martina who has difficulty reading aloud in class. " Maybe it wasn’t our intention to make fun of her, but how much pain we caused by our laughter! ...Persecution is not just something that happened two thousand years ago. At times some of our actions can judge, mistreat and hurt one of our brother or sisters."
The experience of failure
Third Station: Jesus falls for the first time. The Lord is burdened with our sins; he appears beaten and humiliated. The experience that accompanies this moment is that of a child who is always good at school but who, for the first time, receives a failing grade: This unexpected failure was too much for me. Suddenly I felt alone, with no one to comfort me. But that moment made me grow... Now I realize that we can stumble and fall daily, but Jesus is always there to hold out his hand to us.”
A mother’s love
Fourth Station: Jesus meets his Mother. The reading chosen is that of the wedding at Cana with the relationship between the Son and his mother as the focus. It offers an episode for children to think about their own mother and her love that always accompanies them. Even concretely, taking them "to football practice, to language classes and to catechism on Sunday mornings." Meditation speaks to the little ones' need for love and perhaps helps parents be better. " If I have a problem, a question or just some unpleasant thoughts, she is always ready to listen to me with a smile."
Seeing Jesus in the face of others
Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross. There are many opportunities for helping someone. The testimony described here is concern shown to a foreign peer who recently arrived in the neighborhood. He watches the other kids play football but does not have the courage to introduce himself. A child in the group saw him and was the first to meet him and invite him to join them. "Since then”, he writes, “Walid has become one of my best friends and the goalkeeper for our team as well." Only when we recognize a brother in a person "do we open our hearts to Jesus.”
A little help to feel less lonely
Sixth Station: A woman wipes the face of Jesus. "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me", the words of Jesus taken from Matthew’s Gospel introduce us to the Sixth Station. Even children in their daily activities go through difficult or sad moments and need someone to console them. An example is after losing an important soccer match where they hoped to be at their best. Discouraged after the game, “there was my friend, holding a soft drink and waiting for me.” In his company, “losing the game became less of a bad memory.”
Remembering those most in need
Seventh Station: Jesus falls for the second time. The meditation relates the experience of a fourth grader. The end-of-year play is being prepared and he wants the lead role at all costs. Instead, the teacher chooses Giovanni, a rather isolated classmate. After some initial anger, the child understands and is happy. Since then, Giovanni has become more involved in the class. He comments: " My disappointment had served to help another person. The teacher’s choice had given an opportunity to someone who really needed it."
Helping those who make a mistake
Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Luke, we read that when Jesus saw them, he said: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” This is the starting point for saying that "Correcting a brother or sister is difficult but necessary." This was experienced by two brothers who had lied to their mother assuring her that they had done their homework that afternoon, when in fact they had been playing the whole time. One of the two the next day said he did not feel well so he did not go to school. The other went to school, but when he returned home he talked to his brother: "It was wrong for us to lie to our mother and for my brother to pretend to have a stomach ache. I suggested that we do our homework right away, and so I helped him catch up on what he missed the day before. Once we finished, we spent the rest of the afternoon playing."
Loneliness caused by the pandemic
Ninth Station: Jesus falls for the third time. The Gospel passage is that of the grain of wheat that dies and thus produces much fruit. The Covid-19 pandemic enters the scene with all its consequences even for young people. The prevailing feeling is loneliness: they no longer visit their grandparents, school is closed, they miss their classmates and friends. "This miserable feeling of loneliness at times becomes unbearable. We feel ‘abandoned’ by everyone, no longer able even to smile. Like Jesus we find ourselves flat on the ground."
The joy that comes from giving
Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments. Here, too, a little girl tells the story: she has a collection of dolls in her room that she treasures. One day she heard that the parish was collecting toys for the refugee children of Kosovo. She chooses among the dolls some of the oldest ones she is less fond of and prepares a box. Then she says: "That evening, however, I felt I had not done enough. By the time I went to sleep the box was full of dolls and the shelves were empty." Disposing of the superfluous, she concludes, lightens the soul and giving makes one happy.
A Christmas dedicated to service of the poor
Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross. "One Christmas Day we went to Rome with the scouts, to visit the Missionary Sisters of Charity and to distribute food to the needy, instead of celebrating the day with our families." It is no small sacrifice that is described in the meditation for the Eleventh Station. But one of the boys confided: "On the way back, I thought of the faces of all the people I had served, their smiles and the stories they told...The thought of having brought those people a little happiness made that Christmas unforgettable." Serving others with love " is the teaching that Jesus gives us from the cross."
Jesus forgives the sinner who repents
Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross. The example of Jesus forgiving the evil received makes the children reflect on the evil present in the world, for example, the mafias that kill even children. How is it possible to forgive such things? They write: "Dying on the cross, Jesus offered salvation to everyone. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners who have the humility and the courage to be converted."
They took Grandpa away and I never saw him again
Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross. During this period, many children suffered the sudden disappearance of their grandparents. One of them recounts: "People jumped out of the ambulance dressed like astronauts, wearing protective suits, gloves, masks and face shields. They took away my grandfather, who had been having difficulty breathing. That was the last time that I saw my grandfather." Suffering also stems from the impossibility of being close to his grandfather and giving him courage: "I prayed for him every day. That way I was able to be there with him during his final journey on this earth.”
Thank you, Jesus, for teaching me how to love
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is placed in the tomb. The meditation is twelve-year-old Sara's thanksgiving to Jesus. I want to thank You, she writes, because "You taught me to overcome my troubles by trusting in you, to love others as my brothers and sisters, and to get up every time I fall...Today, thanks to your act of infinite love, I know that death is not the end of everything."
If you do not become like children....
In the final prayer of the Way of the Cross, the adults speak again. Jesus pointed to children as an example when he described the qualities necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The first request, then, is for help to be like them “little, in need of everything, open to life". Then all the children of the world are entrusted to the Lord, that they may " grow in wisdom, age and grace", and finally, prayers are said for their parents and educators, "so that they may always feel one with you as givers of life and love."