This week Christians throughout the world began the holiest of weeks in their liturgical calendar. It started with Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday, a celebration of Jesus' triumphant arrival in Jerusalem when crowds welcomed him with palms and jubilation. It ends with the most sacred days of the Christian faith, the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, leading to the greatest of all feasts, Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord. It is a time of revelry quickly turned to tragedy, but transformed yet again to jubilation as life conquers death.
The most solemn of the Paschal Triduum is Good Friday, a curious name for a day marked by the execution of the One billions of people around the world name as their Savior. It is a day of deep sorrow, but also of boundless promise. On Good Friday (and throughout Lent, the season of repentance and preparation preceding the Triduum), pilgrims from far and wide gather to pray the Stations of the Cross. Also known as the Way of the Cross, this centuries-old ritual follows the path Jesus walked between the place where He was condemned to death to the mount where He was crucified. Traditionally, it ends with His burial.
One of the largest Ways of the Cross occurs in New York City on Good Friday as a public procession that recalls Jesus' passion and mourns His continued suffering in people today. It gave birth to Pax Christi Metro New York (PCMNY), a region of the international Catholic peace movement, in 1983. At that time, more than 600 faithful joined the Peace Walk across the entire width of Manhattan from the United Nations to the U.S.S. Intrepid. Along the way, they prayed the traditional 14 Stations and sang traditional Lenten hymns. They also heard the words of such modern-day prophets as Dag Hammarskjold, Edith Stein, Deitrich Bonhoffer and Thomas Merton. There was a concerted effort to relate each stop to a significant location reflective of the concerns of the day, whether economic, social or military. And after the last Station, several participants engaged in civil disobedience at the Riverside Research Institute, a think tank for "Star Wars" development.
This April 22 about the same number of people will again join together for the 29th consecutive Good Friday Way of the Cross organized by PCMNY and now co-sponsored by more than 40 religious congregations, organizations and parishes. People of all ages from babes in carriages to the elderly with canes, people of all races and nationalities, people who truly are the full spectrum of humanity, the church incarnate, the people of God will participate. We will follow in Jesus' footsteps, sharing in a very small way His personal suffering and compassion for those he met along the way.
As in the past, every Station will have a special focus. However, this year, to highlight Jesus' compassion for all, there is also an overriding theme: "Room for All at the Table." Each Station will engage us in reflection and prayer for those who have been marginalized or completely left out of our global community. We will strive to see Jesus' face in everyone and repent of our complicity in any exclusion. To help us in this endeavor, we will carry, along with the cross, a table on which we will add photos of the people we are lifting up at each Station: young and old, male and female, gay and straight, abled and disabled, people of all colors and shades, of various occupations and classes.
We will walk the same route as in 1983, starting across from Holy Family Church, the United Nations parish at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, proceed along 42nd Street and end near Holy Cross Church across from the Port Authority. Of course, over 29 years, what was once at a particular stop may no longer be there, for example the Riverside Research Institute is long gone, so the significance of the Station locations is not what it once was. Still, where we can, we try to make connections.
Station stops with some relevance this year include the first two, both of which are in the shadow of the United Nations. At the first Station, Jesus is condemned to death, we remember that to the consternation of many, He welcomed all at the table. At the second Station, Jesus is made to carry the cross, we identify the cross with human divisions and reflect on Jesus' desire to make us one. The third Station, where Jesus falls the first time, is across from the Nigerian mission. There, we attribute His fall to the weight of oppression and racism. Also of significance are the locations of the fifth and sixth Stations. In the former, Simon is forced to help carry the cross. Simon, a foreigner, represents today's immigrants often exploited in sweatshops supplying the merchandise of many of the surrounding stores. In the latter, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, she breaks out of the crowd to relieve Jesus' suffering.
Outside Grand Central Terminal, where many homeless seek shelter, we offer our prayers for their relief. We stop across from the New York Public Library for the eighth Station, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. Jesus tells the women not to weep for Him, but for their children. We pray for all children, born and unborn, outside this sanctuary of learning. The 11th Station, where Jesus is nailed to the cross, brings us to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station at Times Square. Jesus embraced all, but we alienate some to make it easier to exploit or attack. (For the complete list of Stations, themes and locations, as well as the group leading each, see below.)
Accompanying each Station is a scripture passage that tells the story of Jesus' passion as prophesied in the Old Testament and presented in the Gospels. We hear how Pilate accedes to the crowd's call to crucify Jesus, how soldiers mock and torture Him before laying the cross on His shoulders, how Simon of Cyrene is compelled to help Jesus, and how women beat their breasts and wail for Him. We listen as Jesus is nailed to a cross and offered vinegar to drink. We stand in horror as He cries, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And we follow Him to the tomb.
Linking these scripture readings to the Station themes is a reflection and prayer of the faithful, prepared by 15 different Pax Christi groups and their affiliates. Concluding each Station is a hymn that reinforces the theme. We process from one Station to the next singing a Taize chant, such as "Jesus, Remember Me," to maintain the prayerful tone.
But the PCMNY Way of the Cross does not end with death. We conclude with a 15th Station in anticipation of Jesus' Resurrection. Once again, we hear scripture, but this time it is the message of an angel to the women: "Don't be afraid. ... Jesus has been raised, exactly as it was foretold. ... Go quickly and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen from the dead." We, too, must go forth, believing that the Story lives on in our lives, that it is our turn to invite all to join us at the table.
If you would like to join PCMNY on its Way of the Cross, come to Dag Hammarksjold Plaza at 8:30 a.m. on Good Friday (April 22). For further details, contact 212-420-0250, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.nypaxchristi.org.
Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death. He ate with all and welcomed all at the table.
Station 2: Jesus is made to carry the cross. The cross is a cross of humanity divided; Jesus wanted to make us one.
Station 3: Jesus falls the 1st time. He falls under the weight of oppression and racism.
Station 4: Jesus meets his mother. Jesus respects all women as friend and equal.
Station 5: Simon is forced to help carry the cross. Jesus accepts help from Simon, no longer a stranger. (Focus on immigration.)
Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. She breaks out of the crowd to relieve Jesus' suffering. (Focus on homelessness.)
Station 7: Jesus falls the second time. He falls under the weight of the exclusion of our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. He urges us to protect all children, from womb to tomb. (Focus on the consistent life ethic.)
Station 9: Jesus falls the third time. He falls under the weight of exclusion based on sexual orientation.
Station 10: Jesus is stripped of His garments. He is stripped of His human dignity. (Focus on human trafficking.)
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross. He is prevented from continuing His embrace of all.
Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross. His love was too inclusive for those who prefer to segregate and exclude.
Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross. How do we treat our prisoners today?
Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb. We come to a quiet place where we and those with whom we have walked reflect on how we are community to one another.
Station 15: The Resurrection. We are invited to believe that the Story lives on in our lives.
Who are the persons we are going to invite to join us at our table?