Pope Francis lies down in prayer during the Passion of Christ Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, March 29, 2013. Pope Francis began the Good Friday service at the Vatican with the Passion of Christ Mass and hours later will go to the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
ROME (AP) — Pope Francis reached out in friendship to “so many Muslim brothers and sisters” during a Good Friday procession dedicated to the suffering of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle East.
The new pontiff, who has rankled traditionalists by rejecting many trappings of his office, mostly stuck to the traditional script during the nighttime Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum, one of the most dramatic rituals of Holy Week.
With torches lighting the way, the faithful carried a cross to different stations, where meditations and prayers were read out recalling the final hours of Jesus’ life and his crucifixion.
This year, the prayers were composed by young Lebanese, and many recalled the plight of minority Christians in the region, where wars have forced thousands to flee their homelands. The meditations called for an end to “violent fundamentalism,” terrorism and the “wars and violence which in our days devastate various countries in the Middle East.”
Francis, who became pope just over two weeks ago, chose, however, to stress Christians’ positive relations with Muslims in the region in his brief comments at the end of the ceremony.
Standing on a platform overlooking the procession route, Francis recalled Benedict XVI’s 2012 visit to Lebanon when “we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others.”
“That occasion was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world, a sign of hope,” he said.
Friday’s outreach followed Francis’ eyebrow-raising gesture a day earlier, when he washed and kissed the feet of two women, one a Muslim, in the Holy Thursday ritual that commemorates Jesus’ washing of his apostles’ feet during the Last Supper before his crucifixion.
Breaking with tradition, Francis performed the ritual on 12 inmates at a juvenile detention center, rather than in Rome’s grand St. John Lateran basilica, where in the past, 12 priests have been chosen to represent Jesus’ disciples.
Before he became pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio long cultivated warm relations with Muslim leaders in his native Argentina. In one of his first speeches as pope, he called for the church and the West in general to “intensify” relations with the Muslim world.
The Vatican’s relations with Islam hit several bumps during Benedict XVI’s papacy, when he outraged Muslims with a 2006 speech quoting a Byzantine emperor as saying some of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings were “evil and inhuman.” And in 2011, the pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world, Cairo’s Al-Azhar institute, froze dialogue with the Vatican to protest Benedict’s call for greater protection of Christians in Egypt.
However, Francis’ past outreach to the Muslim community in Argentina seems to have changed that. Al-Azhar’s chief imam, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, sent a message of congratulations to Francis on his election and said he hoped for cooperation.
The Vatican’s efforts to reconcile with the Islamic world have not been welcomed by all. Italy’s most famous Muslim convert to Catholicism, Magdi Allam, announced last week he was leaving the church because of its “soft” stance on Islam. Allam was baptized by Benedict XVI in 2008 during the high-profile Easter Vigil service when the pope traditionally baptizes a handful of adults. There has been no Vatican comment on his about-face.
Thousands of people packed the Colosseum and surrounding areas for the nighttime procession, holding candles wrapped in paper globes as Francis sat in silent prayer as a giant torch-lit crucifix twinkled nearby. Some in the crowd had Lebanese flags around their shoulders in an indication of the special role Lebanese faithful played in this year’s procession.
Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East — nearly 40 percent of the country’s 4 million people, with Maronite Catholics the largest sect. As civil war has raged in neighboring Syria, Lebanon’s Christian community has been divided between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Overall, Christians in the Middle East have been uneasy as the Arab Spring has led to the strengthening of Islamist groups in most countries that have experienced uprisings. Thousands of Christians have fled the region — a phenomenon that the Vatican has lamented, given Christianity’s roots in the Holy Land.
“How sad it is to see this blessed land suffer in its children, who relentlessly tear one another to pieces and die!” said one of the Good Friday meditations. “It seems that nothing can overcome evil, terrorism, murder and hatred.”
Francis picked up on that message, saying Christ’s death on the cross is “the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil, the evil that continues to work in us and around us.”
“Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the cross upon themselves as Jesus did,” he said.
At the end of the ceremony, a male choir sang a haunting Arabic hymn, a reflection of the Eastern rite influence that infused the ceremony.
On Saturday, Francis presides over the solemn Easter Vigil ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica and on Sunday, he celebrates Easter Mass and delivers an important speech. Usually the pope also issues Easter greetings in dozens of languages.
In his two weeks as pope, Francis’ discomfort with speaking in any language other than Italian has become apparent. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Friday “we’ll have to see” what Francis does with the multilingual greetings.
The Good Friday procession was conducted entirely in Italian, whereas in years past the core elements recounting what happens at each station would be recited in a variety of languages.
Here’s my traditional post for ‘Good Friday.’ Never understood what was so good about this day. After all, the forces of evil celebrated on this day nearly 2,000 years ago at the death of Jesus but it was Sunday that changed everything:
The whole tape is great but the best part is at the end when Tony Campolo recalls one Sunday when he had a little preaching competition with the head pastor at the church where he attends.
Dr. Campolo tells how he preached the perfect sermon in every way and had taken the congregation to ‘the heights of glory’. As he sat down beside his pastor, Dr. Tony patted him on the knee and simply said, “Top that.” The older black pastor looked at him and said, “Boy, watch the master.” Then Dr. Campolo recalls for us the very brilliant message which followed.
The following is a short printed version of the 45 minute sermon–the printed version doesn’t really do justice to the original, but you can at least get an idea what the last part is like:
It’s Friday. But Sunday’s coming—
It was a simple sermon, starting softly, building in volume and intensity until the entire congregation was completely involved, repeating the phrases in unison. The sermon went something like this.
It’s Friday. Jesus is arrested in the garden where He was praying. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The disciples are hiding and Peter’s denying that he knows the Lord. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is standing before the high priest of Israel, silent as a lamb before the slaughter. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is beaten, mocked, and spit upon. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Those Roman soldiers are flogging our Lord with a leather scourge that has bits of bones and glass and metal, tearing at his flesh. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The Son of man stands firm as they press the crown of thorns down into his brow. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. See Him walking to Calvary, the blood dripping from His body. See the cross crashing down on His back as He stumbles beneath the load. It’s Friday; but Sunday’s a coming.
It’s Friday. See those Roman soldiers driving the nails into the feet and hands of my Lord. Hear my Jesus cry, “Father, forgive them.” It’s Friday; but Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, bloody and dying. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The sky grows dark, the earth begins to tremble, and He who knew no sin became sin for us. Holy God who will not abide with sin pours out His wrath on that perfect sacrificial lamb who cries out, “My God, My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?” What a horrible cry. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. And at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil of the Temple that separates sinful man from Holy God was torn from the top to the bottom because Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, heaven is weeping and hell is partying. But that’s because it’s Friday, and they don’t know it, but Sunday’s a coming.
And on that horrible day 2000 years ago, Jesus the Christ, the Lord of glory, the only begotten Son of God, the only perfect man died on the cross of Calvary. Satan thought that he had won the victory. Surely he had destroyed the Son of God. Finally he had disproved the prophecy God had uttered in the Garden and the one who was to crush his head had been destroyed. But that was Friday.
Now it’s Sunday. And just about dawn on that first day of the week, there was a great earthquake. But that wasn’t the only thing that was shaking because now it’s Sunday. And the angel of the Lord is coming down out of heaven and rolling the stone away from the door of the tomb. Yes, it’s Sunday, and the angel of the Lord is sitting on that stone and the guards posted at the tomb to keep the body from disappearing were shaking in their boots because it’s Sunday, and the lamb that was silent before the slaughter is now the resurrected lion from the tribe of Judah, for He is not here, the angel says. He is risen indeed.
It’s Sunday, and the crucified and resurrected Christ has defeated death, hell, sin and the grave. It’s Sunday. And now everything has changed. It’s the age of grace, God’s grace poured out on all who would look to that crucified lamb of Calvary. Grace freely given to all who would believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary was buried and rose again. All because it’s Sunday.
At the end of the message the pastor shouts out:
And the whole congregation responds:
But Sunday’s Coming!
JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Christians streamed through the cobblestone alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, hoisting wooden crosses and chanting prayers to mark the crucifixion of Jesus.
Throngs of pilgrims walked a traditional Good Friday procession that retraces Jesus’ steps along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the “Way of Suffering.” They followed his 14 stations, saying a prayer at each and ending at the ancient Holy Sepulchre church.
Along the route, Franciscan friars in brown robes chanted prayers in Latin and explained the different stations to crowds through a megaphone. Leonard Mary, a priest from Irondale, Alabama, was dressed as Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. He was flanked by men posing as Roman soldiers and had fake blood dripping down his chest as he lugged a giant cross down the street.
“The most perfect love that was ever seen in the world was when Jesus died for us. He showed us the perfection of love,” said Mary.
Good Friday events kicked off with a Mass earlier in the morning at the cavernous Holy Sepulchre, which was built on the place where tradition holds Jesus was crucified, briefly entombed and resurrected. Clergy dressed in colorful robes entered through the church’s large wooden doors as worshippers prayed in the church courtyard.