Pope Francis leads the Good Friday Way of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum April 19, 2019. People following the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum this year will find a message of hope, including with a Russian and Ukrainian family carrying a cross together at the nighttime ceremony. CNS photo/Paul Haring
Pope Francis leads the Good Friday Way of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum April 19, 2019. People following the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum this year will find a message of hope, including with a Russian and Ukrainian family carrying a cross together at the nighttime ceremony. CNS photo/Paul Haring
" Families are the answer to so many situations, of conflict, even of the pandemic, because the world's families have held it together in spite of everything ... They took care of problems in total silence, with no fanfare. " Gianluigi De Palo president, Forum of Family Associations

VATICAN CITY • People following the Stations of the Cross at Rome's Colosseum this year will find along the Via Dolorosa a message of hope, including with a Russian and Ukrainian family both carrying a cross together at the nighttime ceremony.

"It is not a Way of the Cross that lists all the difficulties in different families but is about the fact that we can survive difficulties" when they are lived in solidarity as a family, said Gianluigi De Palo, president of the Forum of Family Associations, who, together with his wife, Anna Chiara Gambini, curated the meditations.

"Families are the answer to so many situations, of conflict, even of the pandemic, because the world's families have held it together in spite of everything," De Palo told Catholic News Service April 11 by phone. "They took care of problems in total silence, with no fanfare."

Each year, the pope chooses a different person or group of people to write the series of prayers and reflections that are read aloud during the solemn, torch-lit Good Friday ceremony; the event returns to the Colosseum April 15 after two years of restrictions on public events because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Way of the Cross meditations are available in English HERE and in Spanish HERE.

Each of the 14 stations will seek to reflect on the actual experiences of many different families who have carried the same "cross," De Palo said, "because as the Pope says, 'Reality is greater than ideas.' So (each meditation) is based on real concrete experiences in order to speak about greater things."

Pope Francis established the Year of the Family, which concludes June 26, the closing day of the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome, to help strengthen faith and live God's joy more fruitfully in family life.

It is precisely that spark of joy and strength of faith and families that De Palo and Gambini, the parents of five children, sought to accentuate in the final texts they edited.

For example, he pointed to the meditation about couples that end up never being able to become parents, and all the "negative comments and judgments" that come with not having children. "As if our marriage and our love were not enough to make us a family," said the text for the Third Station – Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin.

The meditation shows how "there can be fruitfulness" in a family without children, he said. Or, as the text says: "We continue to move ahead every day, holding hands, caring together for a community of brothers, sisters and friends that, amid moments of loneliness and consolation, has become over time a home and a family."

The objective of each meditation, De Palo said, was to show how people can find strength and hope in the family they do have – even if that family does not seem "normal" or fulfill the expectations of others.

At the 12th Station – Jesus entrusts his mother to the beloved disciple – the meditation looks at the shock and disorientation of a family losing loved ones to unexpected illness and death and realizing, "The biggest falsehood we had to fight was the thought that we were no longer a family."

No matter its size or makeup, "the family is not the problem, it is the solution to problems," De Palo said.

At the 13th Station – Jesus dies on cross – a Ukrainian and a Russian family will carry the cross together. The meditation sees "Death everywhere" and families ask, "Where are you, Lord? ... We want our life back as before. ... What wrong did we do? … Why did you break up our families like this?"

"We know that you love us, Lord, but we don't feel this love, and it drives us to desperation," the meditation says, ending with an appeal that God "teach us to be peacemakers, brothers and sisters, and to rebuild what bombs tried to destroy."

De Palo said people easily see the value in petroleum or other hydrocarbons when talking about the energy needed to power the world, but they seem to ignore the best, most "inexhaustible" natural resource out there: the human family.

"This is the message" of this year's meditations: to appreciate and invest in the family more, "stop seeing it as a problem, but as a resource," which is also the main message in Pope Francis' exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," he said.

"Through all these years of lockdowns, war, if it hadn't been for families over these very difficult years, the world would be not just poorer, but there would be even less peace," he said.

"Even a cross, when it is lived as a family, can be an opportunity for growth, for discovering a hidden truth," he added.