I find that I wake before dawn here, which is a novelty for me. Dawns are generally shy and soft with colours gradually washing into the sky. The birds start calling and I counted at least seven different songs – the Koel’s being the most distinctive. Then the pigeons and crows go sit on the wires strung from one building to the next doing a hilarious balancing act while waiting for the lady on the roof next door who feeds them bags of grain, and does a violent jerking and swaying exercise snapping her body sideways until I fear she is going to crack. By the time the sun is up over the distant skyscrapers, the sky is white and I have to draw the curtains to minimise the scorch factor.
So, I was ready to take a rickshaw to Mount Mary for the Stations of the Cross. This walk, held all over the world today, divides the last walk Jesus took into fourteen freeze frames from his being sentenced to death, right to being laid in a tomb. I even got there early enough to choose a corner plastic seat outside to catch a breeze should there be one going by. I was early enough to have another look inside the lovely old basilica where the altar had been stripped as is usual after the mass of the last supper. The bare altar and open empty tabernacle looked desolate – but there were people there talking to the Lady, who was dressed in blue and gold finery even on Good Friday.
The silent intensity and obvious internal conversations between the people and the icon are beautiful and quite powerful.
There was a real buzz of excitement as the community came together, as each Good Friday service here is a theatrical masterpiece besides being a sacred ritual. This year the theme was “A Way of Love”. At each station, people investigated where love was to be found in the horror of being betrayed by friends, state and religion. What good love could possibly be in the terror of being physically assaulted, tortured, mocked and eventually killed in the most sadistic way imaginable and where love is now in the pain and brokenness of our world and our families, today.
The prop was a hollow scaffold in the shape of an empty cross and at each station, a little bit of the cross was added until at the end, Jesus was re-membered – put together by the people who make up his body today. It got heavier of course, as the journey progressed and more people stepped in to carry it.
At each of the fourteen stops, the station was re-enacted by parishioners and then a parish family talked about it… children of all ages questioning their parents about what it meant and parents and grandparents trying to explain suffering, indifference and grief integrated by love, and how this could play out in our own little lives. Simple, easy to understand, but profound.
The usual prayers were also said, with the call and response, hymns were sung in harmonies by two young women… and the entire congregation in full voice… and in between the Stations, a Taize chant wove its way through the crowd while we walked down hill through beautiful shaded cobblestoned streets lined by fragrant frangipani and colourful bougainvillea, until we reached the sea.
We then followed the coast along the sea promenade to St. Andrew’s church. Each walker was given a bag with a bottle of water, the prayer booklet, a pen and a red sticker in the shape of a house. At the end of the service we were to write our name on the sticker and put it onto the completed cross.
There was a strong police presence lining the route and traffic controllers, as well as a great sound system on a van. And yes, it was blazingly, scorchingly, hot, but miraculously no one in the huge throng keeled over during the two and a half hour walk – not even the oldest people wavering on their walking sticks, or the very thin young girls in very tight jeans, or the little kids who did not run amuck but were often carried by their sweating parents. No one would have had breakfast either.
Most people go from this to the agony service and then to the veneration of the cross service. I went home to sit under the hot fan, not being used to so much fervour. But the experience has been amazing and will take me a long time to process.
It was a very good Friday for me.
Nostalgic NRI Nani