ROME — A Syrian Christian who fled the fighting in his country believes that the Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum will help promote Christian unity and raise awareness of the growing turmoil in the Middle East.
“This will raise more awareness because the situation in Syria is dangerous, especially for Christians,” said Wael Salibi, a Christian Syrian who moved to Italy in September to flee the violence.
“Christians know they will rise again like Jesus did on the third day, but only with a lot of unity and by praying together,” Salibi told Catholic News Agency in a March 26 interview.
Pope Francis will celebrate the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum the evening of March 29, a solemn tradition that takes place by candlelight every year.
Benedict XVI, prior to his retirement, asked Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai to choose a group of Lebanese to write the 14 meditations for the Way of the Cross and to supervise them.
Benedict’s wish was to raise awareness and increase prayers for the Arabic Christians living in the Middle East, following his visit to Lebanon in September 2012.
The young people who helped write the reflections arrived in Assisi from Lebanon on March 26, and they will later make their way to Rome.
“Christians are facing very serious problems, and the Lebanese lived [with] the aftermath of their civil war for many years, so they understand,” said the 25-year-old Syrian.
The meditations focus on ongoing violence in the Middle East and Christian disunity, as well as the abuse of women and children and the promotion of abortion.
Six of the reflections were written by representatives from the six rites of the Catholic Church in Lebanon: Latin, Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syriac and Chaldean.
The remaining eight were composed by six Catholic youth groups, a special-needs group and a non-governmental organization.
“When rebels turned the Homs neighborhood of Hamadea into a battlefield about a year ago, 80,000 Christians were forced to leave,” Salibi recounted.
And, in his estimation, the Lebanese “live in a volcano ready to erupt any time.”
“When Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai visited Syria in February, he left a strong message of how important it is for Christians in the Middle East to unite,” said Salibi.
His visit to Syria was the first by the head of the Maronite Church since Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943.
“Muslims and Christians lived side by side, like a rainbow, but people are now being forced to leave their country, and this is making the region lose its uniqueness,” said Salibi. “Christians play a very important role there since they make a bridge between the East and the West and between Islam Shiites and Sunnis.”