Vatican Good Friday reflections ask: ‘When will death penalty be abolished?’

 |  NCR Today
Vatican City

A series of reflections to be used by Pope Francis in Rome on Good Friday make connections between the crucifixion of Jesus and the modern-day use of the death penalty.

The reflections, to be used by the pope at an annual public service in and near Rome’s historic Colosseum, pointedly ask: “When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?”

That question is part of a service known as the “Way of the Cross,” a type of liturgical service frequently celebrated by Christians on Good Friday. The service follows Jesus through different stations of his torture and eventual crucifixion, with reflections on his suffering at each point.

Good Friday, the day Christians mark the death of Jesus, is marked this year by the Catholic church and most western churches on April 3.

Francis will mark the occasion by presiding over a “Way of the Cross” service Friday night that begins in the Colosseum and continues onto Rome’s Palatine Hill. At each station of Jesus’ suffering, the pontiff and those attending the outdoor celebration will reflect using a text prepared for the event by retired Italian Bishop Renato Corti.

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At the station that marks Jesus being nailed to the cross, Francis and the pilgrims will use a reflection that questions modern-day uses of both the death penalty and torture.

“We gaze at you, Jesus, as you are nailed to the cross,” states the reflection. “And our conscience is troubled.”

“We anxiously ask: When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?” it continues. “When will every form of torture and the violent killing of innocent persons come to an end? Your Gospel is the surest defense of the human person, of every human being.”

While Catholic teaching holds that the death penalty can be used in a situation where the public authority can find no other way to contain a dangerous person, the last several popes have said that such situations likely no longer exist.

Francis has been even more publically opposed to the practice, saying March 20 that "today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”

Corti, who wrote the reflections for the Good Friday service at Francis’ request, was the bishop of the northern Italian town of Novara from 1990 until his retirement in 2011. He had previously served as an auxiliary bishop in Milan under the late Cardinal Carlo Martini.

The retired bishop’s reflections for the papal Good Friday service have a theme of God’s protective love for humanity. Throughout the service, the bishop presents some possible feelings and thoughts of Jesus during his suffering and then offers a “resonance” reflection for those present at the ceremony.

In another part of the service, Corti also connects Jesus’ suffering with persecution of Christians around the world. At the station that marks when Jesus was forced to carry the cross of his own crucifixion, the bishop says such persecution “has happened repeatedly throughout history.”

“In our day too, men and women are imprisoned, condemned and even slaughtered for the simple reason that they are believers or engaged in promoting justice and peace,” states the reflection. “They are not ashamed of your cross. For us they are wonderful examples to imitate.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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