The Friday before Holy Week is often celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Sorrowful Mother – Mater Dolorosa, La Madre Dolorosa. Here in the diocese of Santa Rosa we have been celebrating with special diocesan-wide – or more recently parish-wide – Stations of the Cross.
The Stations of the Cross is a devotion that arose about the 13th century to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross from his condemnation before Pilate to his burial. Many pilgrims have walked the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa – the Way of Sorrows - in the streets of Jerusalem (as I did in 2004). But when pilgrimages to the Holy Land were not possible, the devotion spread throughout Christian Europe. It was promoted especially in the eighteenth century by an Italian Franciscan friar, Saint Leonard of Port Maurice.
This is the fourth year we’ve celebrated a parish-wide stations of the cross in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, always with one eye on the steps of Christ to the Cross and the other on the lives of the people in our parish. The texts, in Spanish, can be found here. One year we used texts from Monseñor Oscar Romero; last year we used many quotes from Pope Francis, framing the Stations in terms of the Year of Mercy.
This year we prayed the stations a little more generally, though always in light of our times.
We always carry the image of El Nazareno, Jesus carrying his cross – carried by four men.
This year Padre German asked people to bring some trees to plant and these were carried at the front of the procession, in the form of a cross, to recall the problems of the environment which we and many in the world are experiencing.
As we passed through the streets of Dulce Nombre, we stopped at fourteen stations where altars were prepared.
The stations and their themes were:
- Jesus is condemned to death: in a corrupt judicial system, full of impunity and false accusations
- Jesus carries his cross: of poverty and injustice
- Jesus falls the first time: for the weight of the destruction of mother earth
- Jesus meets his mother, the mother of mercy who encounters her suffering children
- Simon helps Jesus to carry the cross: we need people who help those burdened by the crosses of life.
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus: which we encounter in the faces of the ill, the elderly, and the imprisoned.
- Jesus falls a second time: under the burden of work that demeans people
- Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem: women and children suffering violence and abuse and human trafficking
- Jesus falls for the third time: under the weight of violence and drugs
- Jesus is stripped of his garments: without respect for the human body
- Jesus is nailed to the cross: by racism, classism, and arrogance
- Jesus dies on the Cross
- Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in the arms of Mary, as many women encounter their children and spouses killed by violence, by lack of medical attention, in accidents, or by suicide.
- Jesus is buried: as many try to keep Jesus hidden, buried.
As we passed through town, Padre German noted in a few places the significance of where we were.
In the sixth station, according to a legend, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus where we recalled the face of Christ in the sick, the elderly, and the imprisoned. We prayed this station before the house of an elderly man who has been ill for several years and is now confined to this home. We were there praying as he, inside his house, also prayed.
At the next station, we stopped in front of the house of a family who had lost their son to cancer a few years ago.
We prayed the tenth station by a school, recalling how the parents of some children and even some children suffer from addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography.
A local school teacher had prepared the ninth station with a group of students: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem.
What struck me is the sign that one girl held:
We women mourn: infidelity, slavery, abandonment, violence, misunderstanding, deceit, lack of love, hatred.
At the thirteenth station we recalled Jesus in the arms of Mary – and all those who have died in the past year. One sector listed the names of all they knew on a cross.
We invited others to come forward and say the names of those who had died. A few folks came forward and mentioned the wife and son of a delegate who had died separately this past month. I mentioned four of the violent deaths where I have prayed this year as well as the death on a 31 year old delegate of the Word – from pneumonia! – as well as the death of a 23 year old woman who left behind a husband and a ten month old.
We always have a station where people can recall those who have died. This year, I placed this recalling of the dead in the station where Mary mourns the death of her son – lying on her lap after being taken down from the Cross.
This was not your traditional Way of the Cross – though there were many traditional elements: prayers, hymns, scripture readings, walking through the streets. For us, it is important to connect the lives of the people with their faith in very concrete ways.
The Stations closed with Mass, with the trees placed in front of the altar. Many stayed for Mass and received the Bread of Life in the Eucharist.