NEW YORK — Each Good Friday for the past seven years, members of the lay Catholic movement Communion and Liberation have conducted a Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge. There's always been the temptation to admire the Manhattan skyline rather than meditate on the Lord's Passion. This year it will be possible to do both.
New York City firefighters and policemen, some of whom lost friends and coworkers in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, will escort the group and help carry the cross. The procession will pause at mid-span on the century-old bridge connecting Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, and Auxiliary Bishop Ignatius Catanello of Brooklyn will offer a reflection. And, as a gesture of solidarity with Sept. 11 victims and their families, the via crucis will make its way to St. Peter's Church, near the site of the former World Trade Center.
“Sept. 11 was an occasion in which one saw what was involved in Good Friday,” commented Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, national spiritual director of Communion and Liberation. “Stations of the Cross have been held long before 9/11 and will be held long after. It is what life is all about — the struggle for redemption, the struggle to achieve what we have been created for. All life seeks fulfillment. And the Church discovers in Christ, especially in his redemption through death, that only he can overcome the forces in us that prevent us from reaching that fulfillment.
“On Sept. 11, people caught a glimpse of those forces,” Msgr. Albacete added.
Personal suffering, like that which so many people have experienced since Sept. 11, can help people better understand the sufferings of Christ, said James Monti, author of The Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week. The sufferings of Christians in communist Lithuania and China, for example, have helped give Holy Week added significance, he said.
But the Way of the Cross is a devotion that also draws Christians into the Lord's Passion, and in a very physical way. It is an ancient tradition, with roots possibly in the first century, when the Blessed Mother herself was said to make daily visits to the sites connected with her son's passion. A fourth-century account says that pilgrims regularly visited those sites, while a fifth-century bishop erected a series of chapels in Bologna commemorating the various stations of the Via Dolorosa.
Conducting the devotion in an outdoor setting blends private spirituality with a public witness to one's faith in Christ's death and resurrection. “When you get on top of the bridge and look at the skyline — that's the city where we struggle to live,” said Mary Szymkowiak, a member of Communion and Liberation. “There you are with the cross in your hand, and there is the city, and you think about what life is and what it means to be a Catholic in this city. It's tough to live in this city, especially recently. How do you face it? I face it through my faith.”
“Our daily life is work,” added Jonathan Fields, one of the U.S. leaders of Communion and Liberation. “The faith is what impacts life, what's at the bottom of our daily life. It's not that we're Catholic and we do our thing in church and you do your thing in church. The suffering and loneliness of the city are summed up in the cross.”
For Szymkowiak, taking the cross to Ground Zero is a clear way to express what the past six months have been all about, “the suffering of Christ and this city, but also the hope that comes because of Christ's suffering on the cross.”
The crowds who gather to hear Father George Rutler preach about the Seven Last Words of Christ on Good Friday at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel ballroom will hear him speak of the Christ-like “passion” the city and the culture have undergone since Sept. 11.
“Our generation has suddenly had a dose of reality,” he said. “The vast majority of those killed were in their 30s, and 75% of them were men. So a couple of thousand young men were killed. That's a microcosm of World War I, when a whole generation was killed, and that devastate Europe. It has reminded us of life's fragility.”
This year's Brooklyn Bridge Way of the Cross is especially a moment to share with people the reality of the forces that were at work on the first Good Friday — the drama of Christ's triumph over sin and death, Msgr. Albacete said.
And because of Sept. 11, many people may be more ready to hear that Gospel, he said. The event brought people to an awareness of a deeper meaning in life and helped them “see through to the original and powerful meaning of words we always use, like tragedy, evil, good, hero.” Some people were “able to see an interiority, a hint of what we mean by the spiritual life.”
Tom Cashin, chief of the New York Fire Department's First Division, which covers lower Manhattan, said the walk will be a “wonderful moment to stop and reflect on what took place.
“It's always been the Catholic way to acknowledge the cross we have to bear and to put our faith in God and acknowledge the fact that we depend on him for everything,” Cashin said.
“There are things in this world — I don't know if you want to call it evil, but the human family suffers many tragedies, and Good Friday is a good time to remember that.”