Each year the pope personally chooses someone to write the meditations for the stations. This year he asked a group of Italian high school students to write the meditations, guided by religion teacher Andrea Monda.
The meditations reflected on different themes, such as compassion, Jesus' humanity, man's dignity, fear of suffering, modern sensitivity to anything considered offensive, the surprises God gives and the knowledge that as Christians, we are never alone.
While in the past, the pope himself used to carry the cross from station to station, it is now carried by individuals and families. This year cross-bearers included Archbishop Angelo Donatis, the Vicar of Rome, a family of five from Syria, Dominican religious sisters from Iraq and friars from the Holy Land, among others.
In his prayer at the end of the Via Crucis, Pope Francis said that as Christians contemplate Jesus' bloody death, they look to him with a gaze full of repentance, “which before your eloquent silence, begs for your mercy.”
This repentance, he said, “springs from the certainty that only you can save us from evil, only you can heal us from our leprosy of hate, selfishness, pride, greed, revenge and idolatry.
“Only you can embrace us by restoring our dignity as your children and rejoicing for our return home, our return to life,” he said, adding that this repentance also comes from being aware of one's smallness and vanity, and from allowing oneself to be moved by God's “powerful invitation to convert.”
It is the repentance of David, “who from the abyss of his suffering finds in you his only strength,” and
the repentance of Peter, “who when his eyes met yours, wept bitterly for having denied you.”
“Lord Jesus, always grant us the grace of holy repentance,” he said, but noted that despite man's sinfulness, in front of God's majesty “the spark of hope is lit in the darkness of our despair, because we know that your only measure for loving us is to love us without measure.”
This hope, he said, is that God's message will continue to inspire people today with the knowledge that good and forgiveness overcome evil and the desire for revenge, and that a “brotherly embrace” can dispel “hostility and fear of the other.”
It is also a hope that Christ's sacrifice would continue to emanate the “fragrance of divine love” that touches the young people who consecrate their lives to God, and that missionaries would continue “to challenge the slumbering consciousness of humanity,” by risking their lives to serve the poor, invisible, exploited and forgotten.
Francis said this is also a hope that the Church, which is holy and yet made up of sinners, “may continue, still today, despite all attempts to discredit it, to be a light that illuminates, encourages, uplifts and bears witness to your unlimited love for humanity.”
He prayed that the Church would be “a model of selflessness, an ark of salvation, and a source of certainty and truth.”
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“Lord Jesus, always grant us the grace of holy hope!” he said, and asked Jesus to help Christians “strip ourselves of the arrogance of the unrepentant thief to your left, of the short-sighted and the corrupt” and those who saw in Jesus “another chance to put one's own fault on others, even God.”
Closing his prayer, Francis asked Jesus to help Christians identify instead “with the good thief who looks to you with eyes full of shame, repentance and hope.”
With these eyes, the good thief “saw divine victory in your apparent defeat and knelt before your mercy, honestly stealing his way into heaven.”