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Passionist Life Stations of the Cross in Palestine

Stations of the Cross in Palestine

Passionists UK Stations of the Cross in Palestine

Jan 25 2024, 11:35 AM

Attending or visiting any church, Catholics will see fourteen pictures spaced around walls, tracing the final journey of Jesus. Leading with Pilate’s Tribunal, it threads through backstreets, to beyond the city wall; reaching the hill called Calvary, Jerusalem’s official place of execution. 

Passionists understand the Stations of the Cross to have a cosmic dimension: each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross is a symbol, reminding us that the final journey of Jesus continues today in human lives struggling for freedom and dignity in the world today. It is a journey transcending time –repeating in the struggle to reject every oppressive ideology and to seek instead pathways to justice and peace. 

It does not require a leap of imagination to make connections between the Stations of the Cross and the reality of Gaza today, where Palestinian people find themselves trapped within a Gazan cul-de-sac by those with power: designating it, effectively, as today’s place of execution. 

The First Station of the Cross brings Jesus face to face with political power in Pilate’s Tribunal. Prior to passing sentence, Pilate enquires of him: ‘Why have your leaders with this rent-a-mob dragged you before me?’ ‘It is to do with Truth,’ Jesus replies. Unwilling to press further, Pilate cynically dismisses what Jesus says. Self-interest wins out – Pilate symbolically washes his hands – and consigns Jesus to the crowd that is clamouring for his death. 

How does this event in Jerusalem transcend to Gaza today?

In 1917 a document was signed (in the Midland Hotel in Manchester) signalling British political support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as UK Foreign Policy during the First World War. 

Following the Second World War, thirty years later, Britain exercised colonial power in Palestine. As Holocaust survivors began arriving seeking safety, Britain’s responsibility was to ensure law and order and the human rights of all – not least the Palestinian residents in their homeland. Tensions, unsurprisingly, began to arise. Instead of providing a stable basis, and working constructively to create just resolutions of this tension, Britain – like Pilate – abdicated responsibility, symbolically washed its political hands and walked away. 

The consequent vacuum provided opportunity for ideologies of domination to come to the fore. What was already a difficult challenge began to degenerate into chaos. Paradoxically, the UK (in part) had created a climate where survivors of Nazi violence, themselves sowed seeds of violence in attempts to take control. 

In 1948, this culminated in what Palestinians describe as ‘THE DISASTER’ (Nakba). The world may have forgotten, but Palestinians will always remember the systematic expulsion of whole villages, the theft of land and the killings carried out by people whom Palestinians had previously made welcome. Then, as now, Pilate cynically might well ask: ‘What is TRUTH?’

Now, we are witnessing the consequences: violent outcomes of culminating failures dating back more than seventy years. Israeli’s dead counted in hundreds; Palestinian dead currently standing at twenty-five thousand, and still counting. To pray the Stations of the Cross is no pious exercise for Palestinians trapped by powerful violence in Gaza. 

Politicians wring collective hands and bemoan Hamas violence: there is talk about collateral damage describing Palestinian deaths. Slaughter on an industrial scale is committed daily in plain view of the entire world. Business leaders are worrying about lengthened shipping journeys bringing an increase in the cost of oil. Like Pilate’s refusal to face up to the underlying truth in the First Station of the Cross, how many leaders today are demonstrating similar cowardice and self-interest?

But before we claim our own high ground can we honestly answer this same question ourselves:  what is the truth behind such terrible suffering in Gaza? 

The Eighth Station of the Cross depicts a group of heartbroken women – greeting Jesus as he passes close to them in the narrow Jerusalem street on his way to Calvary. Luke’s Gospel story (23:27) has them tearfully crying to see Jesus burdened by the cross on which he will die. Pausing, Jesus turns to them and cautions: “Weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children.” Does this warning echo for us, as we witness the journey of Palestinians in Gaza today? 

Political ideologies can provide the fuel for violence. Violence intensifies when coupled to religious fanaticism born out of suspect interpretations of scripture. Poor theology, whether Christian or Jewish, clearly exacerbates the politics of the present Israeli Government. As such, it is open to an accusation of fostering idolatry. It mocks God’s self-revelation in Scripture as a God bringing life and bringing it to the full for all humankind. 

Gaza challenges everyone today to re-commit to working to achieve dignity and human rights for all. Never must political ideology be permitted to blind us to what is just: especially when coupled with religious fundamentalism, or business self-interest. As the final journey of Jesus continues to teach all his friends, we too must face the challenge of truth, and unflinchingly resist untruth no matter what the cost. 

I am personally privileged to have been helped by a Palestinian friend, who continues today to help me avoid many of my mistaken ‘untruths’ about recent history in the Holy Land. I will forever be grateful for her help – encouraging me to face up to that question shared between Jesus and Pilate in the First Station of the Cross. 

Below, I include a video about the present crisis, sent from another friend. The video suggests potential dangers when partisan, narrow political ideologies link with fundamentalist theology. 

Gaza is a reminder that humankind can only stand with hope in a shared future if all are authentically and equally accepted as sisters and brothers. Every human being deserves freedom, and has a right to it. Is this the ‘world’ Jesus points to – even as he continues his journey to Calvary? A Kingdom of Justice and Peace. 

As Passionist spirituality encourages us, let us continue following the Fourteen Stations of the Cross.

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