When a committee of Catholic youth in Lebanon set out to compose the meditations for the Way of the Cross, they had no idea that a new pope would preside over the Good Friday service at Rome's Colosseum.
By custom, the pope invites a cardinal or an ecclesial community to prepare the meditations. This year is the first that young people of a particular country were asked to participate. Pope Benedict XVI invited the youth of Lebanon to participate through Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, who was named a cardinal in November 2012.
The meditations were submitted to the Vatican Feb. 10, the day before Pope Benedict announced he would resign. "Now, on Good Friday, the Lebanese Catholic youth will be like a bridge between Pope Benedict XVI and his successor, because it will be one of the first official ceremonies of the new pope after he is elected," said Father Toufic Bou Hadir, who directs the Maronite patriarchate's youth programs.
More importantly, Father Bou Hadir said, "We are taking all the wounds and suffering of the Middle East and uniting it with the passion of Christ and the prayers of the universal church."
Describing the opportunity to compose the meditations as "a great honor," Father Bou Hadir said the invitation is considered as a symbolic gesture of gratitude from the pope for the warm welcome he received from young people during his Apostolic visit to Lebanon in September 2012.
Some 20,000 young people gathered on the grounds of Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Catholic Church north of Beirut, to meet Pope Benedict Sept. 15, waving papal flags, singing and chanting in what amounted to an energy-filled World Youth Day for the Middle East.
In his speech that day, Pope Benedict told the throngs of young people that they were "the hope and the future" of Lebanon. "You are living today in this part of the world which witnessed the birth of Jesus and the growth of Christianity," the pope said. "It is a great honor. It is also a summons to fidelity, to love of this region and, above all, to your calling to be witnesses and messengers of the joy of Christ."
Under the direction of Cardinal Rai, the task of composing the 14 meditations was divided equally among committees from the six rites of the Catholic Church represented in Lebanon: Latin, Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syriac and Chaldean. In addition, six Catholic youth groups, a special needs group and a nongovernmental organization were randomly chosen and assigned a station to focus on, "so as to be fair and transparent" Father Bou Hadir said.
"It was a very beautiful experience, because working together with all the different rites, gave us an opportunity to live a real communion in the church," Sister Gioia, 29, a member of the Maronite Mission of Life congregation, said of her participation: "It gave the youth a chance to really say what is in their hearts," she explained. "We tried to show the biggest difficulties facing the youth, not just in Lebanon but for the whole Middle East, so that we can unite them with Jesus Christ on that (Good Friday)."
Yet in all the passages, "there's a vision toward the resurrection, a hope," noted Tattiana Rouhana, a member of the patriarch's youth committee. "We believe that even if our youth are living difficulties, they will surpass it, through the help of God."
The format each group followed for its assigned station begins with a passage or verse from the Bible. The accompanying meditation is based on Pope Benedict's apostolic exhortation on the church in the Middle East presented during his visit to Lebanon. Each meditation then is followed by a prayer.
When meeting the youth in September, Pope Benedict said his exhortation also was meant for them: "Read it carefully and meditate upon it so as to put it into practice," he said.
As part of their research, the groups referred to ancient texts, including those written by St. Ephrem the Syrian, patron saint of the Syriac Catholic Church. The icons that were to be used in the procession came from St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church in Roanoke, Virginia.
Pierre Nacouzi, a 32-year-old engineer who serves on the Maronite patriarch's youth committee, said the main objective of the effort "is to pray with all Catholics in the world and to present our suffering here, and also to be a testimony of God's love. It's a way of saying, 'Don't forget that Christ was born here, and here is the origin of Christianity. Don't forget the Christians of the Middle East,'" Nacouzi said.
About one-third of Lebanon's 4 million citizens are Christian.