“Benedict told us, ‘I want you, youth, Christian and Muslims, to testify to a new Orient saying no to war and yes to peace,’ so that is our aim, our prayer and our hope,” explained Father Toufic Bou Hadir, the general coordinator for Lebanon’s patriarchal youth department.
Arabic Christians, he pointed out, are experiencing “very difficult days,” but they need to put their “eyes on the cross, because ours is the native land of Christianity and of Jesus Christ.”
“The meditations take in all the suffering, the needs and intentions of the youth in the Middle East to unite it to the Passion of Christ,” Fr. Bou Hadir said in a March 28 interview with CNA.
“This is so we will be real witnesses to the resurrection, especially with Jesus’ resurrection, the 15th station, which gives us hope,” he added.
This evening at 9:15, Pope Francis will lead the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum, a place where many Christians were martyred in ancient Rome.
Fr. Bou Hadir said the authors also took into account all of the war victims in Syria, both Christians and Muslims.
Benedict XVI, who travelled to Lebanon in September, chose youth from that country to write the reflections for each station of the 14 traditional stations, which will be read out by people of different nationalities and a disabled person.
Forty-five young people aged 17 to 30 years old from six different groups wrote the reflections.
Those groups are associated with a university, a high school, an apostolic movement, a religious group, an ecumenical youth group and an interreligious dialogue youth group.
But a special needs group and the charitable organization Mission of Life also helped write the reflections.
The authors arrived in Rome on March 28 at the Aleppino Maronite College, after visiting Assisi and the shrine of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
Joseph Semaan is a member of the youth committee from Lebanon’s Maronite Church who helped write the reflections.
“We live with the war next door to us in Syria and Israel, but also with Christian and political division within our own country,” Semaan said.
“We wrote them with the spirit of suffering of Christians in the Middle East,” he remarked.
Semaan explained that he met Christians from the Syrian city of Aleppo who moved to Lebanon to escape the fighting.
Denise El Khoury was involved in writing the reflection of the first station of the way of the cross.
“The main message of the reflections is peace and communion,” said El Khoury.
“‘Give us peace’ is the main message Christians in Syria would like to give to the world,” El Khoury stated.
Her contact with Syrian Christians comes from knowing a group of believers who live in the biggest Christian community in Damascus.
“They live in Baptouma in Damascus and they are insecure and they are waiting for peace,” said El Khoury.
“They get up every day hoping that the war will end on that day, and I know that it’s very difficult for them,” she said.
“The first station compares Pilate to some governors because in some countries they place their own interests above others, especially the poor people,” she said.
El Khoury was also involved in deciding how to distribute the task of writing the reflections to the numerous groups in Lebanon.
“We know what they (Syrians) are enduring because we’ve been there, when we had 30 years of war,” she explained.
El Khoury believes the number of Christians in the Middle East will continue to reduce in the near future.
“All the youths are thinking of leaving their home country to go to places like Australia, the States and Canada where they can build a future,” she reported.
“But we tried, especially with the Pope’s visit, to encourage them to have strength and courage to stay in their country working for peace and justice,” El Khoury said.
A leader of the Lebanese youth groups that wrote the meditations for today’s Via Crucis at the Coliseum said they focus on unity and peace between Christians and Muslims.
Church in Middle East, Peace, Pope Francis, Holy Week