A popular movie in the past year was titled The Way and described a father’s journey along the ancient pilgrim’s route across France and Spain to the city of St. James, Santiago de Compostela as he tried to come to terms with the tragic death of his son. In the journey and through the people whom he met, the father’s life is changed forever as he finds his answers not at the end of the journey but along the way. This is the key to all pilgrimages, whether they be many miles or just a few feet.
Most religious traditions include the practice of pilgrimage as either a required or suggested discipline for serious adherents to a particular faith. Ancient Jews made yearly pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem, Hindus for many centuries have made the trek to the holy cities on the Ganges River and ancient Celts included trips to sacred wells. Muslims include the haj as the fifth pillar of Islam, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime as an act of ultimate worship and submission to God. Christians have many sites of pilgrimage but the original pilgrimage site for Christians was the place of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Pilgrimages to the Holy Land have been popular since the 4th Century and many of the original churches and chapels over holy sites date from that period. The Via Dolorosa, Via Crucis or Way/Stations of the Cross became popular in Jerusalem as an expression of the desire of pilgrims to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Since it was not always possible to travel to the Holy Land, especially when it was controlled by the Moslems, Franciscans have set up Stations of the Cross in churchyards and on hillsides throughout Western Europe from Medieval times. The number of stations varied from 7 to 30, finally settling on 14 in modern times. There is both a traditional form for the stations that is common in most churches and a scriptural form that follows the Gospel story of the Passion much more closely.
The devotion of praying the stations is meant to approximate a pilgrimage as one attempts to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, recognizing that for a pilgrimage, the important part is the present step or station. Our observance of the Stations is especially meaningful during the season of Lent and is a reminder that our entire life is a pilgrimage on our way to God’s Kingdom.
Our Lenten schedule for Stations of the Cross is:
Every Friday 2 PM (English), 7 PM (English) and 7:45 PM (Español)