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story.lead_photo.caption Station 11 at St. Edward Catholic Church in Little Rock depicts Jesus being nailed to the cross. The 14 stations follow Jesus’ path to the crucifixion. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

Each Friday during Lent, parishioners at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Fort Smith walk in the footsteps of Jesus through a devotion known as the Stations of the Cross.

Photo by Stephen B. Thornton
Station 3 at St. Edward Catholic Church shows Jesus falling as he is forced to carry the cross. The Stations of the Cross are a common devotion during Lent.

It's a tradition that dates to the earliest days of Christianity, when the faithful would follow Jesus' path to the cross, known as the Via Dolorosa (Latin for "way of sorrows"), in Jerusalem. It's a tradition that continues there today.

Stations of the Cross

1 -- Jesus is condemned to death

2 -- Jesus takes up his cross

3 -- Jesus falls the first time

4 -- Jesus meets his mother

5 -- Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross

6 -- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

7 -- Jesus falls a second time

8 -- Jesus meets with the women of Jerusalem

9 -- Jesus falls a third time

10 -- Jesus is stripped of his clothes

11 -- Jesus is nailed to the cross

12 -- Jesus dies on the cross

13 -- The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross

14 -- Jesus is laid in the tomb

Over time those unable to travel to the Holy Land began creating their own stations or scenes of Jesus' suffering, crucifixion and burial so they, too, could follow the devotion.

Today, churches of many denominations walk and pray through the Stations of the Cross -- some all year long, others only during Lent and some just on Good Friday, the day that Christians commemorate the Crucifixion.

These scenes, or stations, are depicted in various ways, including in mosaics, sculptures, paintings, bronze plaques and other art forms. Some churches also have "living" Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, with parishioners or actors portraying Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Mary, the Roman guards and others as they re-enact the events leading to the Crucifixion.

The Rev. John Antony, pastor of Immaculate Conception, said the church's stations are "very traditional" and made of plaster. The large stations hang on the walls of the sanctuary.

"I really like them because they are very realistic and easy to tell what each one means, which is good for me because I have a simple faith and need God to speak to me using a 2-by-4 sometimes," he said.

The number of stations varies, but the most common are the 14 established by Pope Clement XII in the 16th century. They begin with Jesus being condemned to death and end with his burial.

Pope Francis led worshippers on the Way of the Cross last Good Friday in the Colosseum in Rome and is set to do so again this year. He has spoken on the importance of the devotion, and reiterated his thoughts last year during a youth gathering in Krakow, Poland, saying, "The Way of the Cross alone defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ's resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life. It is the way of hope, the way of the future."

Antony said the purpose of walking the stations is to grow in faith.

"When we understand more and more deeply how much Jesus suffered and died for us, we understand a little more deeply how much he loves us. And we try -- feebly to be sure -- to love him in return," he said.

Each Friday during Lent, parishioners gather at 6 p.m. and a priest, deacon or lay minister leads them in praying and singing through the Stations of the Cross.

"Walking together gives us the feeling of companionship along the road, which can be rough," he said. "Just like Jesus walked to Calvary but was helped along the way by his mother and Simon, so we help each other along life's way through death to the glory of heaven."

Antony said he particularly likes the singing as they walk between stations.

"We sing a song called 'Stabat Mater,' which is Latin and means literally 'mother was standing' but is trying to see Jesus' suffering and death through her eyes -- which as you can imagine would be very powerful," he said. "How would a mother behold her innocent son's suffering and death?

"That helps us appreciate what Jesus did for us at a whole new level of love -- a mother's love."

The church also has re-enactments of the Stations of the Cross. Teenagers of the church participate in a "shadow" version done in silhouette and Hispanic youth of the church participate in an outdoor re-enactment on the church grounds.

"In the Hispanic version, different actors play the different parts -- Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Mary, Barabbas, King Herod -- beginning at the Last Supper and ending with the Crucifixion," Antony said. "Again, seeing real people do it adds another layer of faith and feeling to our Lord's passion and death."

Walking the stations is also a Lenten tradition at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. Parishioners gather to walk and pray in the sanctuary each Friday at 5 p.m., with an evening prayer service following.

The Rev. Lowell Grisham, church rector, said the church has two sets of stations -- one depicts the scenes in needlepoint and the other set is made of wood. The sets are rotated each year, and this Lenten season the needlepoint set is hung along the sanctuary walls. Grisham said the stations are only up during Lent.

"In Episcopal churches we tend to make it more of a seasonal thing," he said. "I had a church once that had stations that were permanent, but St. Paul's is more typical of Episcopal churches in that we put them up in Lent and practice the stations then."

Grisham said walking the stations is a way for a person to put himself in Jesus' place and imagine what he might have experienced.

"It's a physical and mental and emotional way to place yourself back into Jesus' passion and to remember, in listening to the story and in praying the prayers, to walk the way of the cross," he said.

Religion on 03/18/2017

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