Pope leads flock

  • Pope Francis holds a crucifix as he celebrates Mass for the Passion of Christ, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 19, 2019. Pope Francis began the Good Friday service at the Vatican with the Passion of Christ Mass and hours later will go to the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the Passion of Christ IN St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 19, 2019. Pope Francis began the Good Friday service at the Vatican with the Passion of Christ Mass and hours later will go to the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

  • Pope Francis touches his forehead as he celebrates Mass for the Passion of Christ, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 19, 2019. Pope Francis began the Good Friday service at the Vatican with the Passion of Christ Mass and hours later will go to the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and thousands of faithful at a torch-lit Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum reflected collectively on the plight of women trafficked into prostitution, immigrants marginalized by societies and the sufferings of other exploited persons.

Composing the meditations for the Way of the Cross, or Via Crucis procession that recalls Jesus’ crucifixion was an Italian missionary nun, Eugenia Bonetti, who has worked in Italy for a quarter-century rescuing migrants and other women forced into prostitution by human traffickers. Eighty years old, she still goes nearly nightly on Rome’s street to bring these modern day slaves comfort and hope.

Francis spoke with Bonetti before taking his place on a canopied platform on a rise overlooking the ancient Colosseum, where procession participants took turns carrying a lightweight cross.

Bonetti told Rai state TV just before the procession’s start that “we are all responsible” for these women’s plight, saying “indifference is the biggest reason these girls are still on the street.”

In one of her meditations, read aloud as the faithful listened in utter silence, Bonetti said that “it is easy to wear a crucifix on a chain around our neck or to use it to decorate the walls of our beautiful cathedrals or homes.” Less easy, she added, was acknowledging “today’s newly crucified:” the homeless, unemployed youth, “immigrants relegated to slums at the fringe of our societies after having endured untold suffering.”

Populist leaders in Italy and several other European countries have taken to holding a hard line against migrants, refusing to accept those rescued at sea from traffickers’ unseaworthy boats. The U.S. administration of Donald Trump is also determined to keep out illegal migrants.

Francis listened intently to Bonetti’s account about three young Africans, “little more than girls,” who were huddled over a brazier one cold January night on a Rome street when occupants of a passing car, “just for fun” threw flammable material onto the fire, badly burning the women.

Earlier, during an evening prayer service, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis kissed a crucifix held up in the center aisle, then pressed his forehead for a moment against the wooden statue depicting Jesus. In another moment, he prostrated himself on the basilica floor in a sign of humility.

Solemn Holy Week ceremonies lead to the joyous celebrations of Easter Sunday, when Christians mark their belief of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

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Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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