Kathryn Swegart maintains that the Stations of the Cross is a perfect devotion for children.
We travel back in time to a lovely church on Cape Cod. It is Holy Week. A group of young mothers and their children cluster together, traveling the Way of the Cross. Watch what happens.
Mother #1 begins the first station and must stop, for tears begin to flow. She hands the booklet to mother #2 only to have her begin to cry and so it goes to mothers #3 and #4. By this time the children wonder what is wrong with their mothers. I was part of this group and remember the puzzled looks on these young faces.
I do recall not only those tears but also the solemn manner of the children as they looked up at the dramatic images of Jesus stooped beneath the heavy cross, encountering his sorrowful mother and the weeping women. They stare at the upraised arm of a soldier as he hammers nails into the sacred wrists and feet of Jesus. It is their first encounter with man’s inhumanity to man.
Traveling the Stations of the Cross is a perfect devotion for children. It is active, no sitting required. It is visual. They see Jesus suffer every step along the way, like turning the page in a picture book. Told in dramatic fashion, children hear and see the greatest story ever told.
Children also enter an ancient tradition promoted by the Franciscan priest St. Leonard of Port Maurice (1676-1751). St. Leonard preached the Way of the Cross for forty-three years, setting up 571 Stations throughout Italy. It is not surprising that a Franciscan popularized the Stations as we know them today. After all, St. Francis of Assisi was known as the “mirror of Christ,” the saint who first bore the stigmata—the actual wounds of Christ on his body. Closely united to his loving Savior, St. Francis brought Christ closer to the laity in a real way. It was in the mind and actions of this saint that the first living crèche was presented at Christmas.
The Stations of the Cross were first walked in the twelfth century and were outdoor celebrations. Stations varied from seven to forty-seven events and were walked in reverse to the current order. Pilgrims started at Calvary and ended at Pilate’s house. In 1686, Pope Innocent XI granted permission to the Franciscans to erect Stations of the Cross inside churches.
Share the Stations of the Cross with your children. Enter a quiet church and have a mini-pilgrimage or perhaps find an outdoor shrine. Sit in the peace of your own home with a booklet showing images of the Way. Glance at your child’s face. You might even see a tear.