Benedictine Father Kolumban Reichlin, left, leads Stations of the Cross in front of Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica April 8. CNS photo/Paul Haring
Benedictine Father Kolumban Reichlin, left, leads Stations of the Cross in front of Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica April 8. CNS photo/Paul Haring

VATICAN CITY • Italian painter Gaetano Previati in 1902 completed a series of large oil paintings of Jesus' passion, death and burial.

Titled "The Passion," the 14 paintings, which measure 47 inches by 42 inches, are the Stations of the Cross.

They have been displayed in a variety of settings over the past century but were never placed in a church for Christian prayer until Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, borrowed them from the Vatican Museums this year.

The 14 paintings have been the focal point of Friday Lenten prayer in the basilica since March 4, the first Friday of Lent. They are scheduled to remain in the basilica through April 20.

The paintings, with their predominance of dark earth tones and deep reds, were restored by the Vatican Museums in 2010 with funding from the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

The Stations of the Cross April 8 were led by Benedictine Father Kolumban Reichlin, chaplain of the Swiss Guards, assisted by Conventual Franciscan Father Agnello Stoia, pastor of St. Peter's Basilica.

Cardinal Gambetti stood among the priests, sisters and laity who moved from one painting to another hung on the walls from the south transept, all the way down the nave and up to the north transept.

Altar servers, candle bearers and a small choir led the walk to the stations with tourists joining in or scrambling out of the way once they had a cellphone photo.

At each station, there was a chant, a reading of the relevant Scripture passage, a reflection on ancient and modern problems – accepting suffering, fighting human trafficking, praying for the dying and for courage to combat the Mafia – petitions and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer.