Stations of the Cross by Students: New Light on an Old Tradition
About this article
Christine Stanoch, OSF, writes of a pilgrimage project in which her students use the stations of cross to grow in solidarity with the world, which needs reconciliation and healing. The article gives background information, scriptural quotes for the stations, and guidelines for small-group work. Examples of profound and moving student work are given at the end of the article.
A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place, undertaken for a spiritual purpose. A pilgrimage in our modern age could take many forms. For the season of Lent last year, I invited my junior ethics classes to make a pilgrimage by way of a traditional Catholic devotion--the stations of the cross. But I wanted them to experience the stations in a way that was their own. I invited them to become pilgrims, to journey to the sacred place of the world itself, with its hopes and anxieties, its pain and its need for reconciliation and healing. I hoped that the students' own pilgrimage into the world's concerns would help them grow in solidarity with that world. All the while, I wanted them to see that to journey into the concerns of the world is to walk with Jesus on the road to Calvary.
A Walk with Jesus Through Their Own Experience
My goal of fostering solidarity seemed an ambitious one to attempt with adolescents, but I learned how powerful and significant this kind of ritual could be. I had heard of contemporary stations of the cross services, in which participants would do a "walk to Calvary" by reflecting on various Third World concerns. But these were done mostly with adults, and the concerns focused on were generally not close to the experiences of U.S. adolescents. I wanted to help young people translate the stations into their own world of experience.
The seed had been planted, the challenge was before me, and my deep desire was to have my students experience something meaningful during Lent. A contemporary pilgrimage of the stations would be an ideal way to connect the issues addressed in ethics class with the overall theme of Jesus' walk to the cross.
In the summer before, I had come across these words from the prophet Isaiah: "Remember not the events of the past. . . . See I am doing something new!" (Isa. 43:18-19). As I mulled over these words, what came to me was the challenge as a teacher to keep the richness of the Catholic Tradition present in my teaching, but to breathe new life into it. As Lent approached, I realized that I had a great opportunity to do just that, and I had to try it. I was sure that there would be something in it for me, too, and I was open to it.
The goal was for the students to make a "pilgrimage" through their own experience, to become aware of their own sensitivities toward people in the world around them--those they knew and didn't know. I wanted them to see that these people were somehow on pilgrimage with all of us and that we would walk together in the sacred place of the world's concerns. I prayed that they would begin to see connections between this walk and Jesus' walk to Calvary, and that this would move them to a new sense of meaning during Holy Week and Easter time.
When I announced the project to my classes of young men at the beginning of Lent, the response was mixed. I knew that I would have to work at convincing them it would be well worth their while. New experiences as a teacher are often associated with risk, but I believed in the project. I think they recognized that in my enthusiasm, energy, support, and challenge.
To set the tone for the project, I shared with them a wonderful woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg entitled Christ in the Breadline. It shows Jesus Christ standing with poor people in a breadline. If you look at it long enough, you can feel the simplicity and depth of Jesus' solidarity with the poor. After spending some time appreciating this work of art, we discussed it. The students sensed Jesus' desire to empty himself of self-interest in order to offer himself out of love to the persons he was standing with.
After this class discussion, I gave the students a prayer card with the prayer of a Jesuit missionary on it. It read, "Dear God, make me like your Christ." We decided then to have one of the artists in the class produce his own version of Christ in the Breadline for a Lenten bulletin board. Surrounding his work of art were pictures that we took of our own class. Frequent visits to the bulletin board were made that season as students went to see one another's pictures with Christ in the midst of them. I was hoping the awareness and impression would last.
Stations and Scriptural Quotes
This tone-setting experience led into the actual project of developing the stations of the cross. I gave the class a list of the fourteen traditional stations, somewhat renamed, with a scriptural quote for each station:
- Jesus is condemned to death. (Ps. 3:1-3)
- Jesus is burdened with the cross. (Isa. 53:4)
- Jesus falls. (Ps. 31:11-12)
- Mother (Lam. 1:12)
- The helper (Luke 19:31-34)
- Compassion (Isa. 53:2-3)
- Jesus falls again. (Ps. 30:3)
- The women (Luke 23:28)
- The final fall (Ps. 18:5-7)
- The stripping (Isa. 29:4)
- The nailing (Luke 23:33-34)
- Death (Luke 23:44-46)
- The nameless one
(Lam. 1:11;12,16; 3:5-6)
- All things new (Rev. 21:4-5)
Small-Group Work on Outlines
I divided the class into groups of two or three students. In their groups, they read through the names of all the stations, along with the full scriptural quote for each one. Next in the same groups they brainstormed moral concerns they could identify with each station and its associated scriptural quote. Then each group selected one station to prepare for the rest of the students, and by using a sign-up sheet, we ensured there were no duplications.
The groups had a simple outline format to fill in for uniformity and consistency, and this form would serve as the basis for them to lead the class in their station. They were to fill in the following:
- the name and title of the station
- the full scriptural quotation
- a description of a moral concern suggested by that station
- a prayer composed about that concern
I presented an example to the class to illustrate one possibility. After asking the usual clarifying questions, the students began to work in their groups. I walked around the room making myself available as they proceeded and struggled with making the connection between the station, the scriptural quote, and a moral concern.
I was hoping to see some integration of their understanding of the Scriptures with a new awareness of the moral problems that we had discussed during the year so far. Although it took a while to get started, at last I could see that they were well under way and that the task had engaged them. I could feel a certain relief inside and felt good about what was happening. They handed in their completed formats to me so that I could give a final reading to avoid repetition across groups.
A rather unusual thing happened to me as I began to read and pray the words and ideas they had put on paper. I was drawn to their words, which spoke of the sensitivity they had shared in their groups and now with me. Later they would share this sensitivity with classmates when they led us on pilgrimage. In every class, there are the vocal ones, the quiet ones, those who seem quite uninterested, and those who seem withdrawn and hard to read. To my surprise and delight, the young men in my class had fully entered the process and brought the best out in one another.
As the Wednesday of Holy Week approached, the day on which we would do our stations, we made a wooden cross that we would use to lead us in our way of the cross. (I am always surprised at what the students can create.) I wanted the class to actually walk together outside, to pilgrimage, but often the best-laid plans have to be changed. Due to cold and rainy weather, we had to move indoors to our small theater. With soft lights and background guitar music provided by the students, we set the mood for the pilgrimage. Once the first station was completed, everyone relaxed and could let the service be a meaningful one.
A Sampling of the Students' Stations
The following are examples of what the students created and shared, with comments about the students so that you can understand how their experience influenced them in the selection of their moral concern. These examples, hopefully, will offer you a sense of what I received and how I was enriched by my own students.
Station 1: Jesus Is Condemned to Death
Two young men in class, Tim and Sean, were concerned about how devastated persons could be by peer pressure and peer criticism. Here is how they phrased their moral concern:
Students in our school have their reputations ruined. They are often condemned by others [who] make judgments about them and really overlook the person.
Station 2: Jesus Is Burdened with the Cross
Mike and Gene wrote from their experience working in our ministry service program. In their junior year they had begun to participate in bowling and basketball with handicapped people. I knew that something of this experience was touching their life; now it was being shared through this station. Their scriptural quote was this:
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he
While we thought of him as
as one smitten by God and
The students described their moral concern in this way:
Those who are crippled or handicapped throughout their life because of disease, accidents, or tragedies bear a cross similar to that of Jesus. These people have to endure much pain without being able to complain to anybody. First of all, most people are incapable of understanding the pain handicapped people go through. We learned that we were some of those [misunderstanding] people. Secondly, it seems difficult for the handicapped to complain because they would not want to continue to burden those who care for them in any way. The truth is these [handicapped] people are the ones with the biggest burden on their shoulders.
The students concluded the station by leading us in this prayer:
Lord, many people have burdens that they must carry all through their life. Please spare them of some of their pain. Help them to realize that they will be rewarded in heaven. Please help us to realize how much pain they grow through. Help us to treat them as you would. Thank you. Amen.
Station 3: Jesus Falls
Mike, Jim, and Nick addressed what they called "the ugly offense growing in our community." In their presentation of the third station, they associated Jesus' fall with the recent phenomenon in which high-level managers were losing their jobs. Some of the families of our students have been affected by these layoffs and corporate downsizing. Their moral concern was for our troubled work force, for the unemployed, and for those who lose jobs through technological developments. The students led us in this prayer:
Please help our impoverished brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than us. Give them the faith and courage to be strong and to stay loyal to you. Help people see that it is all right not to be rich, and that the poor should not be scorned or looked down upon. They should be helped to get back on their feet again, so they too can remain faithful servants of the Lord. Amen.
Station 14: All Things New
The fourteenth station really captured it all for me when one young man stood before his peers and shared his experience of being cut from a team and told how, after three weeks, he was finally ready to move forward. It had been a painful experience for him, because he was so sure he was on the team until the last roster was published. What a devastating experience and what trust he had in order to share that with his classmates.
Other moral concerns my students chose reflected what had personally touched their life. It was exciting to stand back and listen to what really mattered to them. One young man chose the pain of those he walked by each day who were homeless.
One group was concerned with those who are addicted to alcohol and drugs and thus experience repeated falls on the journey of life. Some students were concerned about people who were victimized by hate, praying that those persons would have the inner strength to endure the suffering and overcome their difficulties.
I can still feel the gratitude I had that day for the students' openness toward and trust of one another. Maybe they will never do this kind of ritual again, but I am convinced that something happened for all of us that day. Our Easter vacation began at the end of that day, but I had a sense that maybe this year the vacation would be just a little different, that somehow Easter, and new life, would be a most welcomed gift after our experience of walking together on a pilgrimage through the world's concerns.
Christine Stanoch, OSF,
teaches in the religious studies department at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois. A member of the Rochester, Minnesota, Franciscans, she has been involved in education in parish schools, high schools, parish ministry, and campus ministry.
AcknowledgmentsCopyright © 2009 Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this article to be freely used for classroom or campus ministry purposes; however, it may not be republished in any form without the explicit permission of Saint Mary's Press. For more resources to support your ministry, call 800-533-8095 or visit our Web site at www.smp.org.
Published February 1, 1994.