Ukraine war weighs on Pope’s Good Friday Colosseum ritual

ROME (AP) – The war in Ukraine erupted over the traditional Good Friday Colosseum procession in Rome, after the Vatican’s choice of a Russian woman to share the cross with a Ukrainian woman had angered Ukrainians.

In an apparent attempt to quell the objections, when the time came for the two women working together at a hospital in Rome to walk with the cross together, the participants of the ceremony were invited to pause in “praying silence” and pray in their heart. for world peace.

The original manuscript, written with the women’s input, had talked about the prospect of “reconciliation.” That wording had sparked protests from both the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See and an archbishop of Kiev.

They protested against projecting what they saw as the idea of ​​reconciliation, while Ukraine is ravaged by war triggered by Russia.

For the first time since before the pandemic, the solemn torchlight procession returned to the old arena in Rome on Friday night. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists held small, lit candles while Pope Francis, looking pensive and wearing a white coat against the humid night air, sat under a canopy perched on an elevated vantage point.

At each crucifixion station that reflected details of Jesus’ suffering and death at the crucifixion, another family walked with the cross, and meditations, written by them, were read aloud.

The women were identified only by their first names in interviews on Italian Rai state television: Irina, a nurse from Ukraine, and Albina, a Russian nursing student.

Prior to the procession, Albina told Rai that it was important to “pray for the children who are no more, for the soldiers who lost their lives and can not even be buried.” Irina described sharing the cross-bearing as a “great responsibility.”

The Vatican did not respond to the protests. But apparently in response to the clap, the original meditation to be read while sharing the supporting cross was significantly shortened for the procession.

The meditation said that “in the face of death, silence is the most eloquent word.” Participants were then invited to pause and “pray for world peace.” The two women looked gloomily into each other’s eyes for a long moment as they carried the cross.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the text was shortened to allow people to remain in “silence and in prayer.”

Francis did not refer to the clap. Instead, he prayed at the end of the procession that God “brought opponents to shake hands so that they might taste mutual forgiveness.” He also prayed that God “disarm the hand that brother raised toward brother so that harmony will flourish where there is hatred.”

While Francis has condemned the invasion and attacks on Ukraine on February 24 as a “sacrilege”, he has refrained from mentioning Russia as the aggressor, although his references to Russian President Vladimir Putin have been clear.

SIR, the news agency of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, said several Ukrainian religious media this year refused to broadcast or report on the Colosseum procession in protest.

But other believers in the world welcomed the decision to pair the two women.

In Paris, hundreds of Catholics gathered for Good Friday prayer in the courtyard of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec, who is from the United States, told the AP at Notre Dame that having the two women hold the cross together was a “very moving and meaningful symbol.” She added: “I think real people in the real world are worried about peace. We want peace, we do not want war.”

Believers did not gain access to the Paris Cathedral as it is still under reconstruction after a fire in 2019 collapsed its spire and destroyed its roof.

In St. Peter’s Basilica, a few hours before the Colosseum event, Francis, wearing red robes to symbolize the blood of Jesus, limped up the central aisle to an early evening prayer service. Francis, 85, has suffered from a ligament problem in his knee.

Usually at the Good Friday Basilica service in the Vatican, the pope bowed down in prayer. But this time, Francis, who had been hampered by pain for weeks, did not.

Francis sent his official donor, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, to Kiev to lead a Good Friday procession in the capital of war-torn Ukraine. Italian Rai state television showed the cardinal visiting Borodyanka, where he prayed over some of the corpses and leaned over to touch a, partially covered body.

Good Friday is one of the most important days for Christians in the holy week, which culminates in Easter, on Sunday.

In Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of believers traditionally gather in the Old City to visit holy sites during Holy Week, Palestinians and Israeli police clashed Friday in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The place is sacred to Jews and Muslims. This year, Ramadan coincides with Easter as well as the holy week.

Doctors in Jerusalem said more than 150 Palestinians were injured in the most serious violence at the site in nearly a year.


John Leicester and Oleg Cetinic contributed from Paris.

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