The 14 Stations of the Cross are depicted in churches and shrines everywhere. They’re among the most popular Christian devotions. They help us make a spiritual pilgrimage, contemplating Christ’s passion as we hike along the Via Dolorosa in our hearts.

So why confine praying the Stations to the 40 days of Lent?

Families are discovering that observing this powerful devotion all year long — at home — can yield beautiful benefits for parents and children alike.

Just ask Greg and Tina Andress of Spartanburg, S.C. Earlier this year they cleared a trail through the woods on their property and installed outdoor Stations of the Cross.

First meant as a family project, the effort quickly drew in members and dads from the local ConQuest Catholic boys’ club that meets in the Andress home.

The Stations improved as they moved from idea to execution. Originally, Greg planned on using photos the family saw at Holy Hill, a Wisconsin Marian shrine. Then a neighbor donated icon-type Stations for the Andress’ trail. The ConQuest boys assembled the cedar and roof housings with their fathers’ help, then attached them to sturdy wooden poles.

The week before Good Friday, the family’s pastor at Jesus Our Risen Savior Church blessed the trail and Stations before everyone present prayed them for the first time.

“Now we’d like to continue to pray the Stations throughout the year to keep what Christ did for us in our children’s minds,” says Tina. Their initial goal is to pray the outdoor Stations twice a month as a family.

The trail and signposts may be new to the Andress family, but the idea of praying the Stations throughout the year isn’t. Along with their three boys and two girls, ages 9 to 1 (a sixth child is due in August), Greg and Tina are always looking for ways to walk with God between Sundays.

Their home-school curriculum includes a strong Catholic component, and the home has displayed the Stations — in the form of small pictures — for years.

“We had a small hallway, short and narrow, but it worked fine,” explains Mom Tina. “With the beautiful, old-style pictures, the children could visualize what Christ’s passion was like. We’d spend time for them to ask questions, like ‘Why is that lady wiping Jesus’ face with towel?’” It was in small and simple ways like this, she points out, that “the kids developed a great love for Christ at a very early age.”

In Greenfield, Ind., John and Rosie Kube have also made the Stations of the Cross at different times of the year at home with their four girls, ages 11 to 5. When they did, explains John, “We take turns with the kids leading the way to different icons, statues of Jesus, and religious pictures in our house, and reading a meditation. We leave it up to the kids. They sometimes dress up with veils like a nun.”

Rosie adds how the devotion benefited her mother-in-law Marie who when battling cancer relied heavily on praying the Stations every day.

“That was a comfort to her,” Rosie says. “I was so struck by it.”

The Kubes can also frequent the outdoor Stations at nearby Our Lady of the Apostles Family Center. And after a men’s conference John and a friend attended, they began a neighborhood Stations of the Cross walk during Lent.

Children get into the act helping erect each station on different families’ property, and the local Challenge girls club members like the Kubes 11-year-old evangelize door to door, inviting neighbors to join in the community Stations. Even Protestants attend.

Wherever we pray the Stations of the Cross, they’re meant to help us make a pilgrimage in spirit to main scenes of Jesus’ suffering and death. To aid all Christians who couldn’t get to the Holy Land to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Franciscans in the 17th century began erecting the Stations in churches and promoting the devotion.

“The more we do the Stations the more we’re reminded that Jesus remained faithful, no matter what happened,” says Franciscan Father Jacob-Matthew Smith of the Order of Friars Minor at the Commissariat of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C. “If we could put ourselves in his shoes, then each one of these stations have a personal meaning for the individual.”

Out of many ways of doing the Stations, one he recommends that even children can do is to relate each Station to our life. It’s a way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

“By so doing we join in the passion and death of Christ,” says Father Jacob-Matthew. For a child, the first fall of Jesus might be tied to the times the child has fallen off a bike while learning to ride. “Each time we’ve got to have the courage to get back in the seat and peddle again.”

Tina Andress finds the devotion to the Passion gives many lessons and helps her teach them to the children. For starters, she says, “Jesus offered his pain up for the salvation of the world. I tell the children you can offer your pain up for something. Don’t waste the opportunity. They understand. Even as parents, there are so many lessons for Greg and me to learn.”

Father Jacob-Matthew agrees. Mothers can put themselves in Mary’s position and see how they would respond to their own child in knowing God has work for them to do, maybe having to put their life on the line — mothers with a child in the armed forces, for instance.

Tina focuses on how Mary as a wife and mother teaches us to accept God’s will every day of the year.

“In my life as a mother,” she says, “I have to accept and respond with love, composure, sacrifice, prayer, and acceptance of God’s will.”

As for the youngsters, Tina affirms even if they look like they’re not listening, they still see the Stations and hear the prayers with the family.

“They can still get something out of it,” she says from much experience.

Indeed, 5-year-old Peter focuses on Jesus’ falls. “It’s sad,” he says. “It teaches me to be good.”

He likes following the Stations “because Jesus is in my heart and I love him,” Peter says, “and because it makes me feel holy.”

His 9-year-old brother Jacob looks forward to praying the Stations “because you’re walking with Jesus,” he says. “It helps you get close to God.”

Dad Greg believes that doing the Stations as a family is something the children will learn and remember.

Now that the Stations are outside too, he thinks it will be even easier to do them with the children and lead to making them together on Fridays, their spiritual goal like praying the Rosary at night.

“The children use that trail to ride their bikes,” says Greg, “so they go by the Stations and can’t help think about them.”

In church or at home, indoors or even in a small yard, there’s proof positive that for all of us the Stations of the Cross should be a year-round devotion.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen

writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.