Recreating Jesus’ final hours on earth is much more than a biographical rendering, as anyone who has been part of a Living Stations of the Cross will attest.
“We try and put ourselves in the places of people who witnessed Jesus’ suffering, and connect the way that they may have felt to instances in our lives today,” said Jill Harris, 16. “It really helps me to realize that although Jesus lived 2,000 years ago, he still is a part of our everyday life.”
Jill, a parishioner of St. Michael’s in Newark, will take part in a Living Stations on Good Friday, March 25. St. Michael’s is one of numerous parishes in the diocese featuring this popular depiction of Christ’s Passion on their Lenten schedule.
Living Stations are presented chiefly by high-school youth groups, although several parishes incorporate other age groups as well. Performers silently act out the Stations of the Cross, taking on the roles of such people as Jesus, the Blessed Mother, Pontius Pilate, centurions and crowd members: Think of it as “The Passion of the Christ” minus the graphic violence.
Most Living Stations are held as single performances on Good Friday or elsewhere during Holy Week. Special mention is merited for the Living Stations group from Apalachin’s Blessed Trinity at St. Margaret Mary, in the southeasternmost corner of the diocese. The youth ministry is putting on a Living Stations every Friday during Lent — seven performances in all — in Broome and Tioga counties, with the finale scheduled for March 25 at St. Margaret Mary. Nearly 50 youths and young adults overall are involved.
One of St. Margaret Mary’s performances will be for inmates at Elmira Correctional Facility March 11. “They are our best audience,” stated Elise Morrison, 15, a fourth-year Living Stations participant. “Just to look into their faces and see the tears streaming from their eyes is worth all the hard work.”
Sue White, junior- and senior-high youth minister, said St. Margaret Mary’s strong Living Stations tradition stems partially from the fun that youths share while rehearsing and traveling. Yet the mood quickly turns serious once the performance begins, she observed.
“It’s like day and night. Then, after it’s over, they’re back to being kids again,” remarked White, whose husband, Terry, serves as Living Stations coordinator.
Whereas this tradition has existed at St. Margaret Mary since the late 1970s, St. John of Rochester in Perinton is striving to re-establish Living Stations as an annual event. The parish, which will offer a Living Stations on March 11, brought the presentation back in 2004 following an absence of a few years.
“Many people came up to me and said ‘please do it again, I love the meditation and the quiet time,'” said Michelle Hunzek, youth minister.
St. John of Rochester’s version — developed by Hunzek’s predecessor, Maryellen Bashaw — also features an examination of conscience, with narrative recited at each station on such issues as hurting people with words, disobeying parents and sexual wrongdoing.
Examination of conscience is also a staple of the Living Stations in Newark. For instance, Jill said, “When I’ve ‘persecuted’ someone, the Living Stations help me to reflect on that and how to become a better person, along with forgiving those that have ‘persecuted’ me.”
Jill added that careful musical selection is another vital part of St. Michael’s Living Stations. “I like using more modern music that people wouldn’t normally connect to the Stations. Sometimes music sends a much stronger message than words,” she said.
Overall, Living Stations are designed to have a strong impact on both the presenters and the congregation. “This brings Christ’s suffering from 2,000 years ago into our present lives. It makes personal connections and provides a time and space to reflect on that,” said Mary Dundas, St. Michael’s youth minister.
Jill clearly recalls her first attendance at a Living Stations, when she was a junior-high student. “The church was all dark except for a few key lights on Jesus, and altogether they moved me so much. Now that I help plan the Stations, I get even more out of it — but I remember how special it was as a person in the audience,” she said.
Perhaps nobody is moved more than the performers, as they immerse themselves deeply into their roles. “They hear for years from their parents what Christ went through and how much he sacrificed. But this brings it alive for them,” Hunzek said.
“They become that part. The ones who do Jesus — sometimes they’ve had real epiphanies while they do that,” White said. “There is so much that’s spiritual with it; it just happens to them.”
Elise, from her past roles as a person in the crowd, a weeping woman (the eighth station) and as a reader, is well aware of these deep connections.
“It gives a feeling of closeness to God and Jesus that is hard to find anywhere else,” she stated.