March 11, 2019
“At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.”
Since our arrival in Jerusalem, all of us have had the blessing of walking in our Lord’s path to Calvary, the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrow). Fridays at 3:00 pm Franciscans lead pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa. (Franciscans have been the custodians of the Holy Land for over 800 years).
The Via Dolorosa has 14 “Stations” or “stopping places” in the Old City of Jerusalem that commemorate Jesus’ way of the Cross. The First Station starts in the place where Jesus was condemned by Pilate, the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos in Greek, Gabbatha in Aramaic) identified in John’s Gospel. The stations proceed all the way to the Holy Sepulchre and end with Station Twelve, the site of his Crucifixion on Calvary (from the Latin), or Golgotha (Greek) or “place of the skull” (English), Station Thirteen where Jesus is taken down and his body placed on the “Stone of the Anointment” and Station Fourteen where Jesus is laid in the tomb. These are the same Stations of the Cross found in almost every Catholic Church and which we commemorate especially on Fridays in Lent.
Walking the Via Dolorosa on Fridays in Jerusalem is both prayerful and chaotic. There are large crowds of pilgrims that join in this devotion. However, there are also large crowds of people that are passing through the very narrow, barely one car wide lanes and alleys, with shops and street hawkers everywhere. Cars, cabs, motor cycles, and motorized bikes also compete for the precious space where our Lord trod. In an effort to stay together, pilgrims are doing what appeared to me as “holy shoving” small steps, pushing ahead to stay together in a large mass of holy people. It was a miracle that I didn’t twist my ankle as we were constantly going up and down, suddenly steps would appear sometimes ramps for vehicles (often both). Despite everyone’s best efforts, people got split up from the group and the Franciscans speaking a multitude of languages tried to guide pilgrims, people and traffic through the Old City of Jerusalem (probably a sight not that much different than our Lord would have experienced).
At each station, the words of the station and a reflection are read in a variety of languages and then the mass moves on.
This particular Friday walking the Via Dolorosa occurred after a long day of walking various sites in the Holy Land. By the end of day, when I completed the Via Dolorosa I had walked, in total, almost 15,000 steps or almost 6 miles. I was exhausted, my legs hurt, and I could only imagine what our Lord experienced walking this path after his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, a long night of contentious questioning and mistreatment, Scourging, and finally carrying his (our cross) to his death. The Son of God, our Lord and Savior, the perfect lamb, doing this all for me and you, sinners.
Diocese of Joliet