Priest takes up Christ's cross during 'Stations in the Street' devotion through southwest Detroit neighborhood

DETROIT — While most Christians won’t be able to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for three hours on Friday, the streets surrounding Ste. Anne de Detroit became the streets heading up to Calvary.

Hundreds of parishioners and residents of the southwest Detroit neighborhood gathered in the plaza before the historic church as the parish’s young adult group, Jornadas, organized “Stations in the Street,” a life-size devotional procession on Good Friday.

“The parish has been doing this for years; it’s an old Hispanic tradition,” said Fr. Ryan Adams, associate pastor of Ste. Anne, who took on the role of Jesus for this year’s celebration. “It is a day of catechesis, especially in countries where opportunities of education and reading are limited. The recreation of the Way of the Cross is a way of catechesis.”

Jesus, played by Fr. Ryan Adams, meets his mother along the “Via Dolorosa” in the neighborhood of Ste. Anne Parish.

The re-enactment began with a parishioner in the role of Pontius Pilate condemning Jesus to die, follow by Jesus — played by Fr. Adams — taking up a life-size cross on his shoulders and carrying it through the neighborhood.

During the procession, the faithful said prayers and sang psalms as they put themselves in the Gospel story of Christ’s passion.

“Carrying the cross through the streets is a profound experience, but it is neat to see the community come out and bring the Passion to the streets,” Fr. Adams said. “For the people, whether parishioners or not, to just embody the Passion story, it is a beautiful sight to behold.”

Jornadas organizes the yearly celebration as a way to bring evangelization to the streets and celebrate a significant piece of Hispanic culture, said Ricardo Hernandez, a Ste. Anne parishioner.

“It’s a good tradition we have here in southwest Detroit,” Hernandez said. “I remember growing up in other churches and seeing the stations in the street. I didn’t know what they meant, but I do remember seeing the crowds all huddled together. Now that I’m older, it helps me understand and appreciate what Jesus went through. The procession is something someone new to the faith or who has been away from the faith for a while can be really drawn to, putting the story into perspective.”

Ste. Anne parishioners become emotional watching Jesus carry his cross on Good Friday.

Hernandez, who played the role of Pontius Pilate this year, said being in costume and having lines gives him a new perspective on the Passion.

“It’s a powerful experience that helps you meditate on the experiences Christ went through for our sins,” Hernandez said. “When you go, following the procession, you really get to see what it was like back in the day. It gets people to understand those in the story — like Pontius Pilate — as historical people, looking at things from their perspective.”

Playing the role of Jesus for the second straight year, Fr. Adams said it is humbling to take on the physical role of Christ during the Good Friday devotion — as opposed to taking on the spiritual role of Christ when he celebrates the sacraments.

“It was a profound experience, a profound intimacy with Christ,” Fr. Adams said. “It’s hard to do, carrying the cross. It was an embodiment to what Christ went through, using my body to remember Christ’s passion. To be drawn into that drama using my body, it’s a more impactful, powerful — you could say somewhat sacramental — way of experiencing the Passion.”

Jesus, played by Fr. Ryan Adams, is crucified during a re-enactment of the Passion during Ste. Anne Parish's “Stations in the Street” devotion on Good Friday.

The physical act of carrying the cross and following the crowd, just as people did in the Holy Land two millennia ago, adds another dimension to one’s Good Friday reflection, Hernandez added.

“It’s a good way of meditating about the pain that Jesus went through,” Hernandez said. “When playing, as actors, the anger that some showed Jesus, it demonstrates how much Jesus went through, how much he loved us. He took it all for us. In the scenes where we are whipping him, and you see all the different actors, it helps you appreciate what the Passion meant.”

Fr. Adams said the procession at Ste. Anne is something everyone should experience at least once in their life, seeing a live demonstration of a timeless devotion.

“When you see people living it out, embodying the living event, it has an impact that is on the body, the soul, the heart and the psychology,” Fr. Adams said. “Because it is presented in a real, dramatic, live act. People are naturally attentive to live events happening, and when they come to something like this, it is a whole new way to experience a familiar story.”