Every Friday during Lent, Catholic Christians of Bethlehem gather in different places of the town to perform the spiritual Way of the Cross, which commemorates the final events of Christ’s crucifixion – which also happened on a Friday. The Via Dolorosa consists of 14 Stations which represent Jesus’ final walk through the streets of Jerusalem, carrying the Cross.
During the procession the faithful move from one “station” to the next and stop to pray at each. They ‘follow’ the way Jesus walked towards Golgotha.
1. Jesus is condemned to death.
2. Jesus accepts the cross.
3. Jesus falls the first time.
4. Jesus meets His Mother.
5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
7. Jesus falls the second time.
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
9. Jesus falls the third time.
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments.
11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
12. Jesus dies on the cross.
13. Jesus’ body is removed from the cross.
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense.
The tradition of the Stations of the Cross originated in medieval Europe. European painters and sculptors created artworks representing the scenes of Christ’s journey to Calvary. The believers installed the art pieces inside churches as well as outdoors at various intervals along a procession route.
Way of the Cross on Bethlehem’s Graveyard
On Friday (09.03) of the third week of the Lent Period 2012, Bethlehem residents gathered on the Catholic cemetery, situated just behind the Milk Grotto‘s chapel in Bethlehem’s Old Town. For this occasion, the Franciscan brothers of St. Catherine Church prepared an outdoor space for the procession and marked the Stations of the Cross with simple prints representing the events of Jesus’ crucifixion. The ‘stations’ were placed along the path leading to the cemetery’s chapel in memory of family members.
When I arrived at the cemetery, people were already praying the Rosary to keep the memory and to thank God for the Sorrowful Mysteries related to the Way of the Cross and Christ’s crucifixion. I joined them in prayer to the Virgin Mary for Her protection and help in reconciliation with Her Son. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen” (Hail Marys Prayer).
Then the mass began and the leading priest read from the Holy Bible: “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:12-15) Those words began the Way of the Cross and reminded us about the order of crucifying the Christ. When the words were read, all the people knelt, to show the respect. At each stop along the procession we knelt.
Than we moved to the second station and the priest read: “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).” (John 19:17)
We followed our “Via Dolorosa” and at the last station in front of the cemetery’s chapel we prayed for the people who passed away. Father Marwan mentioned that death is a part of everybody’s life and it is one of the ways to become closer to God and His Kingdom of Heaven. It was a beautiful moment, yet sad for those gathered in remembrance of their lost loved ones.
Later, came time for inaugurating the newly reopened cemetery’s church. The interior of the chapel from 1888 A. D. had been renovated. Some of us entered the church, which was sanctified and sprinkled with Holy Water. Water was also sprinkled also on the heads of some of the believers to remind us about our baptism.
The services of the Way of the Cross are often finalized with common food sharing. The Franciscan brothers distributed sweet buns, considered a traditional food served after Palestinian Christian funerals.
The Lent period is going to last for one more month. All of us are waiting for the joyful Easter, which marks last day of the Lent and commemorates Jesus’ Resurrection.
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Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.