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The Catholic New World
Walking in the steps of Jesus

Kristin Peterson

In the years of the early church, Christian pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem to walk the Way of the Cross. Now, Catholics around the world retrace the steps of Jesus through the Stations of the Cross in their own churches or communities. Stations of the Cross is a Catholic devotion that has a rich history and can take many different forms.

Since the 4th century, pilgrims would come to the Holy Land and visit places connected to Jesus' life, said Richard McCarron, associate professor of liturgy at Catholic Theological Union. "The pilgrims would come back (to Europe) and recreate these experiences," McCarron said. By the 5th century, shrines were erected in Europe to represent some of the shrines in Jerusalem.

During the Medieval period, Catholics began to pray more devotions that were connected to the passion and suffering of Christ. "The Way of the Cross comes out of 16th century devotions to the passion that are rooted in the idea of a pilgrimage," McCarron said.

Since pilgrimages were dangerous and expensive, McCarron said, more stations and shrines were erected in Europe so that the devout could still follow the Way of the Cross without traveling to the Holy Land. By the 17th and 18th centuries, stations were built in most churches.

The idea of the stations as being a pilgrimage was still emphasized. The stations were built in churches but they were spread throughout the church. Mc- Carron said the stations represent the pilgrimage practice of going from place to place. "You shouldn't lose the sense that you move, you walk," he said.

Another important aspect of the devotion for people in the medieval church was that the devotion was visual and engaging. On Good Friday, many people could not go to church because they had to work, McCarron said. If they did go to church, they usually did not understand Latin. People would pray the Stations of the Cross instead of going to Mass. "It spoke their language," Mc- Carron said. The stations involved "color, drama, bodily language," all things that the people could relate to.

Todd Williamson, the director of the Office for Divine Worship, explained that the Stations of the Cross "are not connected to any one season," but it is more common for people to celebrate this devotion during Lent. "The stations take special prominence during Lent because of what comes at the end of Lent," Williamson said. "The stations are a means by which we prepare to focus on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ."

Parishes typically hold Stations of the Cross on Fridays. "Friday is the traditional day of the week when the church has recalled the passion and crucifixion of Christ," Williamson said.

Williamson said that praying the Stations of the Cross is still connected to indulgences, but for many people this devotion is a way to connect to Christ. "Stations of the Cross is a unique way for the faithful to be connected to the crucifixion," he said.

Those who pray the stations, walk along the Way of the Cross. "In its most traditional form, the Stations of the Cross is a pilgrimage," Williamson said. "Walking is a part of it; it is meant to be a devotion of movement. We literally walk with Christ."

Sometimes the Stations of the Cross takes place outdoors, where there is more room to walk than in a church. But even when the stations are in a church, Williamson said, there is still movement between the stations.

Since Stations of the Cross is a devotion, it can be prayed in different ways. "There is not one official, singular text or way that devotions need to be done," Williamson said. "For most devotions- and Stations of the Cross is a good example of this-there are various ways and forms that the devotion can be prayed."

For example, Pope John Paul II would follow a version of the stations that was based in the Gospel accounts of the Passion. Along with this scriptural version, Liturgy Training Publications produces two other guidebooks for praying the stations. One version is on the traditional Jerusalem stations and the other follows the stations through the women who were present at the crucifixion.

Other stations reflect on social justice issues in today's world and how they relate to the crucifixion. Some churches present living stations, where people play the roles in the different Stations of the Cross.

Williamson explained that different forms of the Stations of the Cross benefit the different spiritual focuses that people have during Lent. For example, "If you are committed to social justice during Lent, that would be a format to take in the stations," Williamson said.

Where to pray the Stations of the Cross

Most parishes hold traditional Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent. Here is just a sampling of other opportunities for praying the Stations of the Cross at places throughout the archdiocese.

Holy Name Cathedral - Traditional Stations of the Cross Every Friday in Lent at 5:45 p.m. and on Good Friday at 3 p.m.

St. Peter's in the Loop - Every Friday in Lent at 4:15 and on Good Friday at 5:30

The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii - Stations are held every Friday in Lent at noon.

St. Ann's in Lansing - Living Stations of the Cross Junior high and high school students in the parish put on living Stations of the Cross at 7:30 p.m. on March 30. The young people dress up in traditional costumes and act out the different scenes from the last moments of Jesus' life.

Divine Savior in Norridge - Cross walk through the streets This cross walk begins at 1:45 p.m. on Good Friday in the church. Members of the parish carry a large wooden cross throughout the neighborhood. Stops are made along the way to pray the Stations of the Cross.

St. Giles Parish, Oak Park - Living Stations of the Cross Junior high and high school students of the parish organize living Stations of the Cross. The young people and adults in the parish perform the roles in the stations. The stations are held at 7:30 p.m. on Good Friday.

Pilsen Way of the Cross - This living Stations of the Cross begins in the basement of Providence of God Church, 717 W. 18th Street, at 9 a.m. on Good Friday. Members from eight parishes in the Pilsen neighborhood organize the annual event and play the different roles in the stations. In the basement of Providence of God Church, the scenes of the Last Supper, the agony in the garden and the arrest of Jesus are played out. Then the participants make their way outside. The procession goes along 18th Street and stops at certain points for each station. When the people reach Harrison Park, Jesus is crucified. He is taken down from the cross and his body is carried to St. Adalbert Church, 1650 W. 17th Street, for burial.

Port Ministries - Stations in the street This organization serves the poor and homeless on the South Side of Chicago. They walk the Stations of the Cross in the streets of the neighborhood. Usually the walk is several miles long. They stop to say the stations at significant locations in the neighborhood, such as places that involve children or places where violence has occurred. The stations follow a traditional script and will begin at noon on Good Friday. For information about the meeting place, call (773) 778-5955.

Holy Family Parish in Inverness - Online stations Stations of the Cross are available on the parish's Web site, www.holyfamilyparish.org. Along with photos of the stations, there are audio reflections by Father Pat Brennan for each station.

Catholic Online - Online stations Catholic Online also offers a script for the Stations of the Cross, which could be used for group or personal reflection. Check out the stations at www.catholic.org/prayers/station.php.

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