A ‘Way’ for modern cross-bearers who share Christ’s cross

This Good Friday, throughout the day and through the evening, Catholics around the world are joining in Way of the Cross processions — the symbolic walk with Jesus from his trial before Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion on Calvary. Walkers reflect on the sufferings Jesus endured leading up to his death.

In Rome, after the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis presides over the Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum.

In the United States, thousands of Catholics and religious leaders from five parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, are walking more than a mile tonight carrying crosses and statues through the streets of Bensonhurst — led by Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop Paul R. Sanchez.

Some processions are organized around contemporary themes. Spearheaded by the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, the “Way of the Cross for Victims of Abortion” is being held throughout the day in dozens of U.S. cities and in Calgary, Alberta. In India, Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical “Laudato Si'” inspired a parish’s Way of the Cross in the Archdiocese of Mumbai.

frfitzgeraldbookcover2“A Contemporary Way of the Cross” is the title of a slim volume by Father William John Fitzgerald that came my way here at CNS. Father Fitzgerald, 83, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was ordained in 1958 and served as pastor in several rural parishes where he developed team ministry in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he was pastor of what was Omaha’s largest parish, St. James, where he also developed team ministry. But when he was 62, Omaha’s archbishop gave him early retirement — he suffered chemical lung poisoning and had to move to Arizona for his health.

In the intervening years, he told me, “I have thrived.” Among other things, he is active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Voice of the Poor Committee and he is a prolific author — he has written 14 books. He also has a CD out of his Irish songs.

Father Fitzgerald dedicated “A Contemporary Way of the Cross” to “all those who carry heavy crosses.” “Walk the narrow streets of old Jerusalem today and you will discover plaques along the way that indicated the Stations of the cross. … There are other current roads around the world where modern cross-bearers share (Christ’s) cross — the paths of Africa, the roads to homeless shelters, the streets past foreclosed houses,” the priest writes in his introduction.

“Christ still walks beside his followers as they carry their own heavy crosses,” he says. “It is these modern-day crosses that are brought to mind and to prayer in these contemporary Stations of the Cross. These Stations are meant to be thought and prayer provoking. … (They) can be prayed alone or in community.”

frfitzgeraldbookcoverHis other books include “Seven Secrets of the Celtic Spirit,” and “A Contemporary Celtic Prayer Book.”

He also just recently wrote “The Amazing Love of Dogs and God,” about all the dogs he had as a kid, starting with Joe – pictured on the cover with a 9-year-old William.

“In each book I attempted to infuse it with eco-spirituality,” said Father Fitzgerald, who said he studied creation spirituality at Holy Names University in Oakland, California, in 1986. He noted that his high school English teacher at Jesuit-run Creighton Prep in Omaha “taught me the basics of writing, which I still use today.”

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