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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Ukraine's archbishop and ambassador have rejected Pope Francis' gesture of reconciliation.
The Stations of the Cross, led by the Holy Father at the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday, will bring together a Russian and Ukrainian family at the 13th Station (Jesus dies on the Cross — Vatican version).
A Russian woman and a Ukrainian woman will carry a cross at this climactic station, the pope's confidant Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., revealed.
On Wednesday, in an article for Italian newspaper Il Manifesto titled "Victim and Executioner Together, the Scandalous Prophecy of Peace," Fr. Spadaro vigorously defended Francis' symbolic act of reconciliation.
"Two women, Albina and Irina, will carry the Cross on Good Friday. They won't say a single word. Not even a request for forgiveness or anything like that. Nothing. I am under the Cross in carrying it. Scandalously together."
In a statement Tuesday, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said he "consider[ed] such an idea untimely, ambiguous and such that it does not take into account the context of Russia's military aggression against Ukraine."
"The texts and gestures of the 13th Station of this Way of the Cross are incoherent and even offensive" for Eastern Catholics in Ukraine, Shevchuk stressed, adding that this is the case "especially in the context of the expected second, even bloodier attack of Russian troops on our cities and villages."
The prelate also made note of the "numerous negative reactions of many bishops, priests, monks and nuns and laity who are convinced that gestures of reconciliation between our peoples will be possible only when the war is over and those guilty of crimes against humanity are justly condemned."
Shevchuk's protest was backed by Ukraine's ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, who tweeted on Tuesday that he "understands and shares general concern in ... many other communities about the plan to bring Ukrainian and Russian women" on Good Friday.
"Now we are working on the issue, trying to explain difficulties of its realization and possible consequences," Yurash added.
The meditation for the station, released by the Holy See Press Office, reads, "Lord, where are you? Speak to us amid the silence of death and division, and teach us to be peacemakers, brothers and sisters and to rebuild what bombs tried to destroy."
The prayer at the station draws on the tradition of the wounds of Jesus, noting that His "pierced side became the wellspring of reconciliation for all peoples." It asks Our Crucified Lord to let "families devastated by tears and blood believe in the power of forgiveness" and prays that we may all be made "builders of peace and harmony."
There is no reference to Ukraine or Russia during any part of the service. The meditations were composed by families in diverse circumstances, including a missionary family, an elderly childless couple, an adoptive family, a family with a disabled child and a family of migrants.
Spadaro said that the pope was using "the language of Jesus," who calls on Christians to "love your enemies and pray for your persecutors so that you may be children of your Heavenly Father, who makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good and makes it rain on the just and on the unjust."
The editor of the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica expounded on the theological implications of the gesture, noting:
By putting these two women together under the Cross (who shake hands when touching the bloodied wood of the Cross), the Pope carries out his task as a "Catholic," that is, universal, shepherd. Thus, he saves in this hard time the Catholicity of his Faith and of his Church.
He protects it from the quagmire of nationalisms and from alliances, whatever they may be, between throne and altar or between parliaments and churches. It is terrible and scandalous. But this is preaching the gospel of Christ.
Because Francis wants this war to end, he puts "two friends whom the war has labeled as enemies — one executioner and the other victim — under the Cross of Christ and under His words, "Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing," Spadaro explained.
The Jesuit also revealed that the Russian woman said of her Ukrainian friend, regarding the gesture of reconciliation, "I feel much safer and stronger when I have her next to me."
"Their being together, daughters of God and sisters of a war that, as friends, made them enemies, is an invocation to God to give us the grace of reconciliation," Spadaro remarked, noting that Francis already brought together "the aggressor and the attacked" in the same prayer when consecrating both nations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.
Earlier, the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, Abp. Visvaldas Kulbokas, told Credo magazine he would not have employed Francis' reconciliatory gesture because "reconciliation occurs [only] when the aggressor admits their guilt and apologizes."
"Reconciliation must come when aggression is stopped, when Ukrainians will be able not only to save their lives, but also their freedom," Kulbokas said, hoping that the Vatican would change its plan in the final version of the Via Crucis.
Late on Tuesday, the pope's Twitter account reiterated Francis' theology of reconciliation, noting, "If we want to evaluate our following of Christ, let us look at how we behave toward those who have hurt us."
"The Lord asks us to respond like He does with us. He does not separate us into good and bad, friends and enemies. For Him, all of us are beloved children," the pontiff declared.
Catholic devotion and iconography traditionally records the 13th station as: "Jesus's body is taken down off the cross and laid in the arms of his mother Mary." However, the Holy See Press Office's version simply reads: "Jesus dies on the Cross."