SASKATOON — Some 200 people braved cold temperatures on Good Friday, March 30, to follow the cross through the streets of Saskatoon during the annual outdoor Way of the Cross.
Established in 1997 under the leadership of the late Tony Haynes (as co-ordinator of the Justice and Peace Office in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon), the well-known Holy Week event features participation by a range of groups and organizations who lead reflections and prayers at each station to connect the passion of Jesus Christ to suffering in the world today.
At the first station in front of the courthouse on Spadina Crescent, students from the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools’ eco-justice program reflected on recent attacks on Catholic education in light of a Scripture passage about Jesus’ agony in the garden: “How will you respond to Jesus’ call to be vigilant and pray? Will you stand up for the ability for parents to choose a Catholic education for their children, no matter the reason?”
The procession continued with a reflection on Judas’ betrayal, connecting it to the commodification of human beings in the worldwide scourge of human trafficking.
“Sex trafficking is a global epidemic, with an estimated 27 million individuals trafficked annually across the globe, making it a $150-billion industry — not only internationally but right here in our city. Canada is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking, and a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labour,” said Jodi Kozan, executive director of Hope Restored.
Kozan led a prayer asking for God’s help to “end our betrayal of the millions of people sold in the world every day for selfish desires,” as well as praying for all victims and survivors of human trafficking.
Chris Randall, director of Saskatoon’s Homelessness Action Plan, part of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, led a reflection on homelessness at the third station, Jesus being condemned by the Sanhedrin.
“Poverty and homelessness are too often criminalized by our legal system and condemned by the opinions of passersby,” Randall said. “Jesus knew what it was like to be condemned. He knew what it was like to suffer and be an outcast. The church needs to welcome those who are homeless into our hearts, our homes, and our churches. We need to welcome them as we would welcome Christ.”
The fifth station focused on the moment when Jesus is judged by Pilate. Marc Loiselle, a local farmer and a member of the diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, reflected on relationships in rural Saskatchewan, asking, “How often are we tempted to judge our neighbours in rural Saskatchewan before knowing who they are, why they believe in or do certain things, before having created relationships with them? Do we hold on to prejudices, stereotypes, or racism because we choose to remain ignorant and are unwilling to task ourselves with discovering our neighbours? Incomprehension and hatred led Jesus to the tomb.”
Other reflections during the walk included prayers for the plight of Palestinians, led by a representative of the Mennonite Central Committee, as well as reflections and prayers about the forgotten elderly in our community, for families, for refugees, for the protection of creation, and for all those affected by conflict or war.
At the eleventh station, focusing on Jesus’ promise of paradise to the good thief, a reflection by Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish addressed the legacy of hurt and distrust experienced by indigenous people.
“In Canada, many First Nation, Inuit, and Métis people find it hard to maintain faith in Christian institutions because of the way the churches collaborated with the government’s policy of aggressive assimilation in the past. The residential school scandal is indeed a national disgrace, but when that scandal is allowed to become a stumbling block to faith, that too, is a scandal. Today we ask for God’s mercy and guidance as we build a culture of reconciliation.”
Wyndham Thiessen of L’Arche Saskatoon led the reflection at the twelfth station: Jesus speaks from the cross to his mother and his beloved disciple.
“Jesus hung on the cross, rejected and scorned. Only his mother and a few faithful friends remained beside him. People with intellectual disabilities often endure a similar loneliness, with very few people in their lives who are willing to stay close and name them as friends,” Thiessen said.
“Parents are often isolated, supporting a handicapped son or daughter with very little help or support from a caring community. Jesus knew that his mother would need support, and he appointed his disciple to care for her as a son.”
A moment of silence was observed on Spadina Crescent after representatives of the Knights of Columbus read the Scripture passage at the thirteenth station about the death of Jesus on the cross.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon carried the cross to the final, fourteenth station, accompanied by Anglican Bishop David Irving.
On the steps of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, the two faith leaders led a closing reflection, prayer and blessing. “Jesus’ story does not end here, in the tomb of Good Friday. Our story does not end in tragedy and despair. We need not flee like the disciples in fear for the future, because we know as people of faith that Jesus will rise from this tomb, and so we live in faith and hope that we, too, will rise with Christ on the last day.”
Myron Rogal of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace, who co-ordinated the annual event, then thanked all those involved — including Saskatoon city police, city officials, Night Owl audio, the many participating groups, and the volunteers from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish who prepared a lunch of soup and bannock to conclude the event.