A Ukrainian and a Russian participated in Pope Francis’ Good Friday “Stations of the Cross” service, but the meditation they wrote was scrapped after Ukrainians protested, saying the war had made it untimely.
The traditional Via Crucis procession at Rome’s Coliseum was embroiled in controversy earlier this week when the program showed the two friends, a nurse and a nursing student at a Rome hospital, would take part.
The candlelight service consists of the 14 Stations of the Cross, stages between the death sentence of Jesus and his burial. It is often personalized so that those who carry the cross from station to station reflect world events.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church of Ukraine, called their inclusion inappropriate and ambiguous because it did not “take into account the context of Russia’s military aggression against the ‘Ukraine’.
The original text of the meditation that the two women had written spoke of death, loss of values, rage, resignation and reconciliation despite the bombardments.
Shevchuk said the text, which had been approved by the Vatican, was “incoherent and even offensive, especially in the context of the expected second and even bloodier attack by Russian troops on our towns and villages.”
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the Vatican, Andrii Yurash, also expressed unease.
On Friday evening, the original text of some 200 words was replaced with two sentences: “In the face of death, silence is the most eloquent of words. Let us all stop in silent prayer and each pray in his heart for peace in the world” .
The crowd of several thousand then remained silent for about as long as it would have taken to read the original, longer meditation.
Francis sat down and watched the procession from a white chair.
In his own final prayer, he asked God to allow “adversaries to shake hands that they might taste mutual forgiveness, to disarm the hand raised by brother against brother, that concord might spring up there where there is now hatred”.
Since the start of the war, Francis has only explicitly mentioned Russia in his prayers, such as during a special world event for peace on March 25. But he made his opposition to Russia’s actions clear, using the words invasion, aggression and atrocities.
Moscow calls these actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” intended not to occupy territory but to demilitarize and “denazify” the country. Francis implicitly rejected this definition.
The war in Ukraine is expected to continue to cast a shadow over the pope’s remaining activities during Holy Week.
On Saturday evening, Francis will lead an Easter Vigil mass in the basilica.
On Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he will say Mass in St. Peter’s Square and then deliver his biannual “Urbi et Orbi” message and blessing (to the city and the world).