It was a late spring morning, somewhere between the years 30 and 33 of our era. In a street of Jerusalem -- which in centuries to come would be known simply as the "Via Dolorosa" -- a small procession was winding its way: escorted by a patrol of Roman soldiers, a man condemned to death advanced, carrying the patibulum, the horizontal arm of a cross whose vertical arm was already standing amid the stones of a small, rocky promontory called in Aramaic, Golgotha, and in Latin, Calvary, "the place of the skull".
This was the last chapter of a familiar story whose central figure is Jesus Christ, the man crucified and humiliated, the Lord risen and glorious. It was a story that began in the darkness and gloom of the evening before, beneath the olive branches of a field called Gethsemane, "the olive-press". A story that quickly unfolded in the strongholds of religious and political power and culminated in a sentence of death. Yet the case of that condemned man was unlike that of so many other victims of the brutal torture of crucifixion, which the Romans reserved for the punishment of revolutionaries and slaves. Not even the tomb, offered by a man of means named Joseph of Arimathea, could be the end of the story.
There would in fact be another chapter, astonishing and unexpected: the condemned man, Jesus of Nazareth, would splendidly reveal another nature hidden beneath the features of his human countenance and body: that of the Son of God. The end of the story was not the Cross and the tomb, but rather the brilliant light of his Resurrection and his glory. As the Apostle Paul, a few years later, would say: the one who renounced his glory to become powerless and weak like us, and abased himself even to accepting a shameful death by crucifixion, was exalted by the Father, who made him the Lord of earth and heaven, of history and eternity (cf. Phil 2:6-11).
For centuries Christians have retraced the steps of the Via Crucis, a path that leads to the hill of the crucifixion, with their gaze fixed on its ultimate goal, the light of Easter. They have made that journey as pilgrims along that same street in Jerusalem, but also in their cities, their churches and their homes. For centuries writers and artists, both famous and forgotten, have sought to touch the hearts of the faithful by bringing to life those steps or "stations", making them moments of meditation along the way to Golgotha. They have painted pictures ranging from the striking to the ordinary, from the sublime to the simple, from the dramatic to the plain and unaffected.
In Rome, this spiritual journey in the footsteps of Jesus sets out anew each Good Friday, led by the Pope, the Bishop of this City and the universal pastor, in union with Christians the world over. This year's reflections for each station are narrative and meditative in character, and follow the story of the Passion as recounted by the Evangelist Saint Luke. They have been written by a biblist, Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, prefect of the Ambrosian Library and Gallery in Milan, a cultural institution founded four centuries ago by Cardinal Federico Borromeo, Archbishop of that city and a cousin of Saint Charles Borromeo. A century ago, among its prefects, was Achille Ratti, the future Pope Pius XI.
Let us now begin together this journey of prayer, not simply for the sake of remembering past events and a tragic death, but to experience the crude realism of a story which nonetheless speaks of hope, joy and salvation. Perhaps others who are still searching, uncertain and troubled will make this journey alongside us. And as we make our way, step by step, along this path of suffering and of light, we will be able to hear an echo of the stirring words of the Apostle Paul: "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory?… But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Cor 15:54-55, 57).
*** A moment of silence
*** Back to the main page