By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 3, 2014
ATLANTA—Joyful disciples waving palm branches. Costumed soldiers whipping Jesus. Praying outside the Fulton County Courthouse. Meditating at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center reflecting pool.
These are a few of the ways Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta can participate in the Lenten custom of the Way of the Cross, the tradition that follows Jesus’ steps to his death and resurrection.
Virtually every parish in the archdiocese offers a time for this style of prayer, and most do it weekly during Lent’s 40 penitential days. The centuries-old tradition is reenacted in Passion plays and Stations of the Cross as believers prepare for the holiest time in the church year, starting with Palm Sunday and concluding with Easter Sunday.
The Stations of the Cross devotion walks with Jesus as he is condemned to death and carries the cross, pausing at 14 stations to reflect. From his meeting with his mother, Mary, and the women of Jerusalem, to his death between two thieves, believers reflect and pray.
The custom of the faithful following Jesus’ journey with stations in a church began with followers of St. Francis of Assisi in the 17th century. This devotion remains popular as many Catholics on Good Friday will find themselves with their parish community to pray in this way.
Increasingly popular are contemporary dramatic presentations of the events described in the Gospels.
At St. Ann Church, in Marietta, hundreds are expected to attend the Living Stations on April 11, as silent performers portray the final hours of Jesus’ life. The Living Stations uses music, as actors wordlessly mime the scenes and the Passion of Jesus is read aloud. The parish has built its observance of Lent around the theme of “From these ashes.”
“It’s a deep immersion because you are using more of the senses,” said Jim Herrel, the parish administrator.
Herrel and Ed Bolduc, the music director, talked about the program at the parish. It has been going on for 18 years by a group called the St. Ann Players. Forty biblical characters are portrayed with period costumes.
Parishioners leave the church with greater awareness and understanding of the Passion, said Bolduc.
Christine Holt, the director of St. Ann Players, called the evening a “walk of faith.”
“This portrayal reminds me that God knows our life is not going to be the easy, straight and narrow path I might wish it to be, but still he promises to be there with me every step of the way, especially when there are problems, pain, heartache and sometimes even great suffering,” she said.
At St. Michael Church, Gainesville, teenagers will for the first time put their own understanding on the events of the final days of Jesus.
The young people will put on an original play that covers the whole week leading up to Jesus’ arrest. It is unique because it ties together an original play and the traditional Stations of the Cross, said Andy McRoberts, the youth minister.
Students will be able to connect with this portrayal of Jesus, as it takes them from his triumphant entrance of Palm Sunday to hanging on a cross, he said.
“It’s just to give them a better idea that this was a human being,” he said. McRoberts, who wrote the skit, said there may be tears in the audience as people experience the dramatization.
Parish adults will also continue the custom of Stations of the Cross, both at the parish pastoral center and the city’s Laurel Park. A cast of dozens participates in these events that unfold on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
In the city of Monroe on Good Friday, April 18, St. Anna Church continues its tradition of reenacting the Passion of the Lord at 12 noon in front of the Old Courthouse. The public is invited.
On the streets of downtown Atlanta, an ecumenical group of Christians remembers Jesus’ final days, drawing in contemporary issues of justice and peace to this prayer.
The 34th annual Ecumenical Good Friday Pilgrimage (Urban Stations of the Cross) organized by the archdiocesan Justice and Peace Ministries is scheduled for Friday, April 18, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is to begin the event with prayer.
This multilingual Way of the Cross includes Scripture readings, prayer and music.
The Urban Stations pilgrimage allows people to reflect on issues in the headlines, while walking from one site to another impacting those in need.
Kat Doyle, director of Justice and Peace Ministries, said the stations touch on people caught in human trafficking, on abortion, on immigrants—“all issues that are present right here in all of our local communities.”
The experience of walking the streets while praying can change people.
“One of the things I most appreciate about the day is the conviction with which people pray. As they hear Scripture and reflections at each station, they join their voices together in praying not only for change of heart but to actually be agents of change,” Doyle said.