By Seàn-Patrick Lovett
The Way of the Cross is one of the most beautiful and emotional of all WYD traditions. Tastefully combining culture, spirituality, and devotional drama, the Via Crucis invariably remains one of the most memorable and impactful of all World Youth Day events.
Those who were there can never forget 2008 in Australia. The 12thStation, especially, where the Crucifixion took place at sunset against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Or 2013 in Brazil, where the scenes representing Christ’s passion and death evolved in a series of tableaux vivant along Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach.
Homage to St John Paul II
The Via Crucis in Panama 2019 paid homage to the Pope who began the World Youth Day tradition 34 years ago. The 14 Stations are based on those composed by Saint John Paul II for the spiritual exercises he preached, when still a Cardinal, to the papal household in the Vatican in 1976. As a priest, and later as Pope, Karol Wojtyla used to pray the Way of the Cross every day.
Each Station includes a reflection on a theme that connects the reality of young people, with the Martyr Church: the poor, vocations, ecumenism, indigenous peoples, ecology, refugees and migrants, hope, violence against women, human rights, corruption, motherhood, terrorism, abortion.
Addressing God the Father
Instead of preaching a homily in the traditional manner, Pope Francis chose to address God the Father directly. “Lord, Father of mercy”, he began. “The way of Jesus leading to Calvary is a way of suffering and solitude that continues in our own time”. We too, the Pope went on, “have given in to apathy and inaction”. “How easy it is to fall into a culture of bullying, harassment and intimidation”, he said. “Father, today your Son’s way of the cross continues”.
The Way of the Cross continues
Pope Francis then proceeded to give examples of how Jesus’ suffering continues, and is reflected in, the faces of so many suffering people in the world today: in unborn babies, underprivileged children, mistreated women, unemployed youth, abandoned elderly, ignored indigenous peoples, all those who are exploited, silenced, abused, rejected, discarded, trafficked, “deprived not only of a future but of a present as well”. “Your Son’s way of the cross”, said Pope Francis, “is prolonged in a society that has lost the ability to weep and to be moved by suffering”.
Standing beneath the Cross like Mary
“Let us look to Mary, woman of strength”, said the Pope. From her, let us learn how to “stand beneath the cross, with determination and courage”. It is in Mary, continued Pope Francis, that we learn to say “Yes”: Yes, “to those who have refused to remain silent” in the face of a culture of mistreatment and abuse; Yes, “to the stubborn endurance” of those who are “ready to start again in situations where everything appears to be lost”. From Mary we learn to stand beneath the Cross with hearts that feel “tenderness and devotion, that show mercy and treat others with respect, sensitivity and understanding”.
Pope Francis’ concluding prayer was again addressed to God the Father: “Lord”, he prayed, “teach us to stand at the foot of every cross”. “Open our eyes and hearts, and rescue us from paralysis and uncertainty, from fear and desperation”. Amen.