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16 April, 12:41 PM

Ukrainian and Russian women carry cross together at Via Crucis in Rome

The traditional Catholic Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) Easter ceremony, led by Pope Francis, returning after an almost three-year pandemic-induced hiatus, was hit by controversy after a Ukrainian woman and a Russian woman participated together.

The women, named only as Iryna from Ukraine and Albina from Russia, carried a processional cross together at the ceremony, which was held near the Colosseum in Rome on April 15.

The Way of the Cross is a traditional Catholic service commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. During the service, participants move between 14 “stations,” where they recall and meditate on a specific event from Christ's last day. Specific prayers are recited, then the procession moves to the next station.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had earlier objected to the idea of the women taking part together. His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk), head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, called the idea "untimely, ambiguous, and such that it does not take into account the context of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine."

"For the Greek Catholics of Ukraine, the texts and gestures of the Thirteenth station of this Way of the Cross are incoherent and even offensive, especially in the context of the expected second, even bloodier attack of Russian troops on our cities and villages," he said on April 12.

As a result of the criticisms, the text of the XIII station was shortened.

"During the XIII station dedicated to the reflection on the death of Jesus on Golgotha, the cross was carried by Ukrainian Iryna and Russian Albina. The women have lived in Italy for about 20 years and work together in the palliative care unit, helping patients who, at first glance, can no longer be helped,” Vatican News reported.

“The text of this penultimate station of the Way of the Cross was changed to read as follows: ‘In the face of death, silence speaks louder than words. That is why we are in devout silence, and let each of us pray in our hearts for peace on all of Earth.’”

Vatican Press Office Director Matteo Bruni said it was "a deliberate change that kept the text to a minimum to rely on silent prayer."

Ambassador of Ukraine to the Vatican Andriy Yurash noted that the first version of the text contained, in particular, a Russian propaganda narrative about "fraternal peoples."

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