Freedom is love…
August 10, 2023
Friday August 11th: The cost of discipleship
August 11, 2023

Archbishop J, help us understand WYD Way of the Cross

Young pilgrims holding the World Youth Day Cross (Vatican News)

The Way of the Cross is a venerable part of Catholic tradition from the earliest times. First, it was associated with Mary. One tradition had it that Mary walked the way of Jesus’ Passion several days a week. By the 16th century, it was known as the “Via Dolorosa” (the way of suffering) or the Stations of the Cross.

Already, by the 13th century when the Franciscans took custody of the holy sites, the Way of the Cross began to settle into a settled devotion. Indulgences were granted for visiting several holy sites, and then replicated for those who could not visit the Holy Land and made into a devotion in Europe.

Traditionally, the Way of the Cross involves the congregation moving from station to station as they contemplate the 14 mysteries that make up the Passion of Christ. Each mystery or Station opens the pilgrim to one moment in the suffering of Christ. Together, they invite the pilgrim into a whole picture of Christ’s suffering on that Good Friday.

As a devotion, the Stations is contemplative prayer that invites the pilgrim to recognise the great price paid for our redemption. This contemplation has the capacity to move disciples to contrition—as they recognise the depth of their sin sickness—and feel the full weight of their sin, which was the cause of Christ’s suffering. Further, the contemplation leads to gratitude for Christ who died for us while we were still sinners. This price was born out of love by one who loved us so completely. Ultimately, this contemplation moves the disciple to compassion—how could we hold grudges or not forgive when Christ suffered so much for us and our salvation.


World Youth Day – Way of the Cross

WYD Lisbon 2023 Way of the Cross was entrusted to the Jesuits of Portugal. They wanted the Stations to be prayerful for young people and still speak authentically to the joy, hopes, griefs and anxieties of the young. They also wanted it to be the fruit of a synodal experience, since the Holy Father set synodality as the direction of the Church.

The Way of the Cross was conceived through an international synodal process of young people in conversations, in the Spirit, about the deep concerns of the young. Out of this synodal listening, 14 fragilities emerged that young people experience and live, and which touched the lives of many of the participants in the listening process. The fruit of the listening process was a moving devotional that captured the minds and hearts of the young and old alike. This is a significant invitation for the Church.

The vulnerabilities comprise limited opportunities for a future, violence, loneliness, vocation, minorities, self-centredness, mental illness, ecological extinction, addictions and weakness, the image culture and narcissism, violence and refugees, shattered dreams of the non-productive, truth and media lies, recovery after failure.

Not only were these fragilities powerful, the staging of them was also novel. Matilde Trocado was appointed the artistic director of the WYD Way of the Cross. She pulled together artists from 21 different countries to participate and make manifest the voice of the youth from the synodal listening.

A large scaffolding structure was erected with the cross moving vertically and horizontally between Stations. There was choreography and movement that amplified each Station. The music was a mixture of traditional chant and modern youth music that led the worshipper deeper into the fragility that was meditated upon. The Lisbon 2023 Way of the Cross did for this generation what Jesus Christ Superstar did for my generation. It made the Passion accessible and relatable to a new generation.


An invitation to the Church

The traditionalist generation prided themselves on being strong, frugal, and courageous in the face of difficulty, and Baby Boomers on being resourceful. The Millennial and young generations are vulnerable: they are open and honest to a fault and will lay it out as it is, with all the pain and complexity. Their invitation to contemplate vulnerability as we contemplate the Way of the Cross is brilliant. There is a stroke of theological genius here.

The older generations felt the need to make it look perfect even when it was anything but perfect. So much time and energy were spent in pretence and hiding the dark parts of personality and family. This generation comes and says: ‘we are fragile, vulnerable and we are a mess, and we need help’. I believe this is beautiful both psychologically and theologically. Let us not hide the dysfunction; let’s be vulnerable enough to name it and hopefully recognise that the fragility is not out there, it is in here, in my life, family, community, church and nation.

We are a mess! That is why God sent His Only Begotten Son! The great spiritual challenge of my generation is Pelagianism. Pelagianism is the heresy that we can with effort pull ourselves up by the boot strap. We cannot! We are fragile and vulnerable. Says St Paul: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor 4:7).

From the synodal consultation of the young on the Way of the Cross we have a clear focus now. Again, St Paul says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Transmitting the faith to the next generation is our greatest and most sacred task as Church today. Now we see a significant challenge. Those passing on the faith have pretended at strength and perfection for so long that the millennial neither sees it attractive nor genuine. To communicate across the generations, we need to learn vulnerability: that we have gotten it wrong so often; that we do not have all the answers. We are fragile and need bonds across the generations to make sense of the world.

It is in partnership across the generations, with fragility and vulnerability as our common human legacy that we could set out on a synodal path with one another and the crucified Christ as our guide. Maybe the synodal way, is a Via Dolorosa—we, as Church, with all our vulnerability and fragility walking with the crucified Christ. Now we could understand Pope Francis’ call: The Catholic Church is for everyone, everyone, everyone.


Key Message:

The WYD Way of the Cross was a paradigm for a synodal Church, broken humanity walking together with the crucified Christ.

Action Step:

Reflect on the way you present your story. Do you acknowledge the fragility and vulnerability? Or do you overemphasise it? Dare to risk vulnerability this week.

Scripture Reading:

2 Cor 4:7