On Friday, Feb. 23, a large group of young people brought life to the streets of Jerusalem for the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war last October. About a thousand children and youth from Christian schools walked the Via Dolorosa in the Old City offering prayers for peace, leaving a trail of hope in their wake. 

The initiative, titled “The Way of the Cross… A Way of Peace,” was organized by the Custody of the Holy Land and involved 12 institutions, including two schools of the Anglican Church and the school of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as various Catholic groups. Father Francesco Patton, the custos of the Holy Land, and the apostolic delegate to Jerusalem, Father Adolfo Tito Yllana, were also present. 

The Way of the Cross began at the Church of the Flagellation and concluded at the Church of St. Savior. The first eight stations took place along the traditional route of the Via Dolorosa. At each station, after the reading of Scripture and prayer, two children released a pair of doves, a visible sign of the prayer for peace and freedom lifted up by the youngest participants.

“Every year, we organize a Via Crucis with the students from the schools,” Father Ibrahim Faltas, vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land and director of the Terra Sancta Schools, explained to CNA. Last year, the event had a particular resonance: The students wore red scarves — the color of blood — with the image of the vandalized statue of Jesus, which had been desecrated just a few weeks earlier within the premises of the Flagellation complex.

The broken and defaced statue has never been restored and has become a symbol of the suffering Jesus. This year, too, the first station of the Via Crucis was held around that statue.

“For the scarves, we chose white, the color of peace,” Faltas said. “The inscriptions ‘Da nobis pacem Domine’ and ‘Grant us peace’ form a cross on the fabric. We also printed a dove holding an olive branch in its beak, the symbol of peace.”

Faltas emphasized the importance of freedom of worship in light of recent reports suggesting that the Israeli government might consider restricting access to the Esplanade of Mosques/Temple Mount during the month of Ramadan.

“Jerusalem must be open to everyone; that is its nature. People cannot be prevented from going to pray, at any age. Everyone has the right to pray in their places of worship. If during Ramadan people cannot reach the mosques, it would be a significant problem,” he said.

Stations 9 through 14 took place in the Franciscan Church of St. Savior and at the end of the Way of the Cross, the custos of the Holy Land delivered a brief meditation on the gift of Jesus, who gave his life for all humanity — even for those who persecuted him.

“Let’s ask him for the grace to keep our hearts free from hatred and the desire for revenge against those who harm us. Let’s ask for the grace that all walls built of enmity and hatred be demolished. Let’s ask Jesus, who stretched out his arms between heaven and earth, to help us today in building a bridge of peace through our commitment to peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land and throughout the world,” Patton said. 

After the recitation of the “Simple Prayer” attributed to St. Francis, the Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem, Father Adolfo Tito Yllana, bestowed the final blessing with the relic of the holy cross.

Article by catholicnewsagency.com