In a bid to ensure the World Youth Day Stations of the Cross will not incite anti-Semitic feelings and appeal to all Christians, organisers have dropped six traditional stations which have no scriptural foundation.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Church has changed one of its most popular devotions and a landmark event of World Youth Day to take account of the sensitivities of Jews and draw other Christian denominations into its youth celebrations.
In the Catholic tradition the Stations of the Cross, the depiction of the final hours of Jesus Christ, features 14 scenes including the fall of Jesus three times, but only eight stations have scriptural foundation.
To make the event more appealing to all Christians, a Vatican approved scriptural version, founded entirely on passages from the New Testament, will be adopted when it is staged in the streets of Sydney on July 18.
It is not the only concession the Church is willing to make in the name of interfaith unity: scriptural texts, reflections and video commentaries will be carefully worked so that the scene at the Sydney Opera House in which Jesus is condemned does not incite anti-Semitic feeling.
The Pope will pray with Australian Christian leaders, including those from Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Eastern Rite churches in the St Mary's Cathedral crypt the morning of the Stations of the Cross. That will be followed by a meeting with the heads of non-Christian faiths, including the Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu religions.
The World Youth Day coordinator, Bishop Anthony Fisher said all religions would receive a bounce from the public expression and celebration of faith.
"We've been in discussion with the Jewish community," Bishop Fisher said. "We're very conscious of the fear some people might have that enacting the Passion of Christ could incite anti-Semitic feelings and so we've had a long dialogue about how we can minimise any risk of that.
"We want to make it very clear to people that the Passion of Christ celebrated in the Stations of the Cross is not intended to be, is no excuse for being, an attack on anybody and certainly for nurturing any prejudices that people may have in their hearts.
"In the choice of scriptural texts you can choose ones that are less likely to be misinterpreted by people to encourage that kind of feeling and we've chosen those texts carefully and in consultation with others."
Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, senior rabbi of the Great Synagogue, said he had not seen the details but applauded the church's attempts at positive dialogue between the two faiths. He had invited the Pope to visit the synagogue.
Malek Fahd Islamic School, a co-educational primary and high school in Greenacre, will host more than 300 Catholic pilgrims for the World Youth Day program.
The Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, said internal research showed young Catholics were keen to bring non-Catholic friends to World Youth Day events.World Youth Day for all: Fisher
"Many people have asked, 'Why is it called World Youth Day rather than Catholic Youth Day?'," WYD coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher said yesterday according to another Sydney Morning Herald report.
"After all, we've been clear from the start that this event is hosted by the Catholic Church, it's held at the invitation of The Pope and it celebrates the Catholic faith and ideals for life.
"But like so much the church does ... it seeks to serve all comers. Everyone is invited to join in the activities and catch the spark from these young people, to witness what may well be the biggest event in the history of Australia, certainly the biggest youth event and certainly the biggest religious event to date."
Many of the World Youth Day activities, such as forums and artistic performances, would also be open to interfaith participants, Bishop Fisher said.
Catholic Church opts for diplomatic scripts so no one will get cross (Sydney Morning Herald, 29/5/08)
Pope to meet leaders of other faiths (The Age, 29/5/08)
World Youth Day 2008