Reflecting on the Way of the Cross, or as it is known here Via Crucis, is always an intensely emotional experience.
In Madrid the powerful prayers and beautiful stations brought me to tears, which is quite a feat. I am more of a bite your lip and hold it in kind of girl. But today’s Via Crucis was no different to Madrid in testing my limits. All around pilgrims were crying as we were walked through the 14 stations of the Cross.
Each station acted as a stage as actors re-enacted each scene ranging from the interpretive to realistic. One of my favourites depicted Mary holding Jesus’ body on a stark blank stage, surrounded by hanging red ribbons to represent the blood. Set against the dark night, with the soft glow from the street lights the white, and pale figures created a moving contrast with the deep red.
But it was as ‘Jesus’ alone staggered up the station that opened the flood gates for many. As the orchestra reached a crescendo, he climbed the stage, streaked with blood.
As Pope Francis addressed the thousands gathered on Copacabana Beach he reminded them of the importance of the Cross as an icon for World Youth Day. Of course there is the Pilgrim Cross that has travelled around the country for the last two years in the lead up to the event. But the Cross’ link with World Youth Day goes back even further, back to when Pope John Paul II gave the first group of young people the Cross as a symbol of Christ’s love and redemption in 1984. The very start of World Youth Day, when it all began.
Since then the Cross has travelled across continents, it has been to every situation you can think of. Pope Francis captured it when he said it was ‘steeped in life experiences of the countless young people who have seen or carried it.’ This Cross has absorbed the faith of all those it has encountered.
As always with Pope Francis, this was not a history lesson or even a reminder of the importance of the Pilgrim Cross, it was his time to challenge the pilgrims, to ask them to ask themselves questions.
What has the Cross of Jesus left for you? He said. What does this Cross teach us?
At first these seem like easy questions any Catholic could answer with a reference to Christ’s suffering and dying for our sins. Though Pope Francis never takes the easy route, as we are finding out. When it comes to young people, he wants to not only be with them, but push them, challenge them and make them better. He wants them at the forefront of change in our society. He went on to remind us Jesus is with us all, we are never alone whether we have lost faith in God, or even political institutions that are now corrupt, whether we are persecuted for our religion, or because of the colour of our skin, whether you are hungry when “we live in a world where tonnes of food is thrown out every day.”
Faced with such questions it is easy to turn away, but Pope Francis called us to take courage. “Sometimes we can be like Pilate, who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life and instead washed his hands.” Pope Francis ended urging us to take courage, to not wash our hands, but to learn from the Cross.
The Via Crucis at World Youth Day is a reminder of this. Seeing the reaction of all the pilgrims I do not think I am alone in saying we are ready to take courage. Every pilgrim if they could, would say to Pope Francis ‘We are will not wash our hands, we will take courage.’ This World Youth Day we will ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’.