Today’s Good Friday celebration at the Vatican will focus on religious persecution in China. The Tibet crackdown is garnering the biggest headlines at the moment and China’s actions against the Falun Gong are well-known, but the Pope will put the spotlight on Christian persecution in the communist state:
Pope Benedict XVI’s observance of the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum will have distinctly Chinese overtones at a time of delicate relations between the Vatican and Beijing.
While the situation of China’s Roman Catholics will be at the heart of a meditation to be offered by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun of Hong Kong, the unrest in Tibet has taken the spotlight in bilateral relations.
The pope broke his silence on Tibet during his weekly general audience on Wednesday when he advocated dialogue, saying: “Violence does not resolve problems, it only aggravates them.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, the religious affairs news agency I.Media reported that a Chinese government delegation had a secret meeting at the Vatican on Tuesday. The unconfirmed talks were planned long before the outbreak of violence in Tibet, the agency said. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi refused all comment on the meeting, not even confirming or denying it took place. Any such meeting would be highly unusual, as China and the Vatican have not had diplomatic relations for more than half a century.
Cardinal Zen, who is to lead the long-planned Way of the Cross procession which is to begin at 9:15 pm (2015 GMT) at Rome’s Colosseum on Friday, is a key figure for Asian Catholics including those in China who are split between the official and clandestine Catholic churches. According to an advance text released by the Vatican, Zen will refer to “living martyrs of the 21st century.” “The pope wanted me to speak for our brothers and sisters” in Asia, Zen will say at the start of his meditation.
The observance is held every year at the Colosseum where, according to legend, early Christians were thrown to the lions. Zen will also say that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem who approved the death sentence for Jesus, was the “symbol of all those who use authority as an instrument of power and don’t concern themselves with justice.” A brochure published by the Vatican to accompany the event is illustrated with Chinese artworks representing each of the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem pray for peace.
In the Philippines, it’s whips and nails.
This piece notes that today is something of a religious convergence:
For Christians, it’s Good Friday, which marks the death of Jesus and leads to Easter’s celebration of the resurrection. For Sunni Muslims, depending on the moon, it will be Eid Milad an Nabi, a festival marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
Friday, remarkably, is also the Jewish festival of Purim, the Bahai new year of Nawruz, and the start of Hinduism’s spring festival of colors, Holi.
Why so many holidays on one day? Mainly it’s a matter of the vernal equinox–the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere–coinciding with key phases of the moon and a host of ancient calendars.
Purim, for instance, is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, which just happens this year to be March 21. Eid Milad an Nabi always falls in the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal, which year by year circles its way around the Gregorian calendar but this year falls about March 21 if you’re Sunni, or March 25 if you’re Shiite.
Nawruz, a New Year celebration marked across parts of Southern and Central Asia as well as by followers of Bahai, always falls around the vernal equinox, usually on March 21. Holi, celebrated with bonfires and people throwing colored powders, comes after a full moon in the Hindu month of Phalguna, this year March 21. And Good Friday just happens this year to fall the earliest it has in many decades, also on March 21.
Here’s the Way of The Cross page at the Vatican website.