Friday, April 09, 2010

Walking with the immigrant on the Way of the Cross

Here is a blog originally published at for a conference I am helping to plan. Any of y'all are welcome to join us on April 23rd at the University of Chicago or in our conversation online at our blog linked above.


At the 4th station, Jesus meets his mother. We are asked to remember the suffering of immigrant families torn apart due to deportation. 32nd annual Via Dolorosa. Good Friday, April 2nd, 2010. Pilsen.

Attending the annual Living Stations of the Cross in Pilsen this year, as a Catholic I looked forward to a cross-cultural encounter with the Spanish-speaking Catholic community. Good Friday has always had a means of reaching across 2000 years of history, bringing the passion of Jesus into my mind and heart in meaningful ways. Rather unexpectedly, as the Way of the Cross of Pilsen proclaimed the plight of immigrant alongside the sufferings of Christ, this unified piercing message connected my own individual personal concerns and prayers to social concerns. My own spectatorship, the disconnected and thus detached observer of the plight of the immigrant became aligned with the silent spectators of Christ crucifixion in Jerusalem. And together, myself and thousands others on pilgrimage down 18th street, Spanish and English speaking, sang out “Perdona a tu pueblo Señor” (Lord, pardon your people.)

The living Stations of the Cross began at 9 am in the basement of the Providence of God Church. A sizable crowd of around a hundred gathered with me outside, unable to enter due to the number of people already there. We joined with them on this mini-pilgrimage however, directed towards Harrison Park almost 2 miles away where the crucifixion was to take place. I have never participated in a Living Stations, and was excited to see this living relic of Latino Catholicism in America. At each station, Christ’s journey became the journey of the immigrant. At the 4th station, where Jesus meets his mother, Mary’s own suffering from seeing her son being taken to be crucified was linked to the deep pain of immigrant families torn apart due to deportation. At the 9th Station, as Jesus falls the 3rd time, we were called to remember the difficulties that many immigrant teenagers and children of immigrants face in completing their studies right next to a vacant lot where the Resurrection Project, one of the Way of the Cross’s cosponsors, would be building a new dormitory for Latino/Latina immigrant students. Throughout, Spanish and English speakers alike were called to remember and acknowledge their own lack of compassion before those within our communities living in fear, desperation, and in need. As we marched on, thousands joined, entering into this Living Way of the Cross that was as much an enactment of the stories surrounding us in and beyond the Pilsen parish communities, as it was an enactment of the story of Christ from the Gospels.

Though the grandchild of a French immigrant and a native of a region filled with migrant workers and immigrant families, it is easy to live my own life disconnected from the plight of the modern immigrant. This liturgical binding of modern crisis to the biblical crisis event that we lift up as a central part of my Catholic faith enabled me not only to attend to this social justice issue in a new way, but also to draw it into my full person in prayer. As a spectator of this modern day crisis, I was drawn into the spectatorship of the city of Jerusalem watching Jesus. I was equally compelled towards action as these living stations demanded the painful gaze of attention be directed to those families and communities all around us living under fear of the threat of disruption, as well as to the grief of seemingly irreparable loss as family members are deported out of this country without word or notice.

While the liturgical calendar seemingly trudges on without any notice to the ordinary lives that we lead, the Christian story equally can pierce through the layers of history and our own indifference to speak to our hearts and our social context as this Good Friday Way of the Cross illustrates. Theologically, the witness of Christ’s incarnation imposes an understanding that if we are to not “cling to” him as a resurrected Jesus warns Mary Magdalene from doing in John’s Easter season Gospel text, we must acknowledge the story of Jesus of Nazareth is not merely one moment in history, nor a locked away personal treasure, but instead continually lived out in the interconnected social world around us. Christ’s story is not lost to history, but living everywhere there is injustice, even in our failed immigration system. As Christ’s story liturgically fuses to our shared stories, new resources in ritual and prayer are given to us to align our suffering with this cosmic injustice of the God-abandoned crucified Christ and the ultimate triumph over death. As the liberation theologians used to proclaim, “Christ is crucified with the poor in their sufferings.” Those like me, who falsely live apart from this immigrant crisis that touches our neighborhoods and faith communities, are also impelled to solidarity in the realization that our own culpability as mute and inactive spectators of this modern day crucifixion calls us to responsibility to receive pardon and to penitentially move to new action. Witnessing the Living Stations of the Cross in Pilsen efficaciously draw thousands of us into the story of Christ and the story of the immigrant inspires confidence in the power of liturgy to affirm our faith identities not apart from our social context, but instead drawing in our pains, sufferings, histories, and even guilty inaction along with our whole hearts. “Perdona a tu pueblo Señor”

Michael is a 2nd year MDiv Student at the University of Chicago and a pastoral intern at St. Clement Church

More Links:

Video of the Way of the Cross made by Yochicago:

The Resurrection Project in Pilsen:

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