JERUSALEM - The Way of the Cross is a devotion usually observed during Lent, especially during Good Friday. It consists of 14 stations, each related to a particular moment of the Passion of the Lord. Each station has its own particularity; each has its own prayer, location and story. During the Way of the Cross, the faithful move from one station to the next, recalling the events that began with the condemnation of Jesus to his body being placed inside the sepulcher.
Inside the Old City of Jerusalem, Christians have different ways of celebrating the Way of the Cross. Some do, some don’t, some fast, some pray, and some share meals together before or after. In the Holy Land, it is a tradition firmly fixed in the customs, but here in Jerusalem, it is both a spiritual and physical experience, as it literally follows Christ’s footsteps, from the beginning of the Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulcher.
“I’ve always had a strong relationship with God, ever since I was a child,” says Nadine, 32. After getting married she left Jerusalem to move to Nazareth. “I always fasted, always prayed, always kept God on my mind, knowing that he was protecting me. The way I feel about Lent is hard to explain; it’s like I enjoy it in a way where I feel spiritually closer to God the more I follow it, especially on Good Friday. It feels like the connection between me and God is much closer on a spiritual level.
Our traditions during Lent are simple. As a family, we fast for the whole 40 days; on Fridays, my brother buys Ka’ek bread, falafels and hummus, and we share a traditional Palestinian breakfast with the whole family. We sometimes invite friends over, and on Palm Sundays we go out to have lunch together.
As for the Way of the Cross, I’ve been following it since I was 13 years old… And now I’m 32! So I have been doing it for 19 years now. Never skipped a day, and hopefully never will.
The way I do it is usually with some friends of mine, either on a Wednesday or a Friday during Lent, and after we go get breakfast together. I enjoy every second of it; I pray to God with an open heart and dedicate myself to Him during that time.”
Samar, a mother who lives in Jerusalem, began to spiritually experience the Way of the Cross later in life. “When I was young, twenty or thirty years ago, I wasn’t as close to God as I am today. I never fasted, thinking it was pointless and a waste of energy; I was wrong, but I only came to understand that later, during a spiritual retreat that made me realize that I needed to dedicate more time and make more effort to get closer to God. Since then, during Lent, I pray every day and fast for 39 days, and I go to church every Friday and Sunday. It helped me think more positively and improved my life both on a mental and spiritual level.
The reason my family and I fast for 39 days is because of this one tradition. I live near Lion’s Gate, inside the Old City, where on Palm Sunday all of the scouts meet and leave for the procession. On that day, to celebrate, me and my sister cook traditional Palestinian food, like stuffed zucchini, grape leaves stuffed with meat, sheep intestines and belly, and so on. Therefore, we skip one day of Lent for this specific tradition, which has been passed down for generations in my family.
During the Way of the Cross, me and my childhood friends meet up on a Friday when everyone is free, and we carry the cross from the first station to the last, inside the Holy Sepulcher. We have been doing this for five years now. Before, I used to go to the Holy Sepulcher and pray instead, but my friends and I wanted to do something different. We've been doing this for six years now, and I hope we'll continue to do so.”
Pictures and interviews by George Musara.