BREWER, Maine — It was a sight that stopped traffic and caused heads to turn — a long-haired man wearing a white tunic and a crown of thorns dragging a cross down North Main Street on Sunday afternoon.
He was preceded by men dressed as Roman soldiers carrying spears. Behind him, men, women and children solemnly followed. It looked a bit like a movie was being shot but there was no camera crew.
It was called the Way of the Cross, or Stations of the Cross, and was a re-enactment of Christ’s condemnation, crucifixion and death. It was presented on Palm Sunday by members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which is made up of the Catholic churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport.
“I’m so happy to see all our parishioners come together around this,” the Rev. Seamus Griesbach said after the event. “This was an opportunity to strengthen the parish, to come together and really get to know each other and, ultimately, to strengthen our faith. It has been such a blessing.”
Now that the costumes and props have been made, the parish plans to make the walk an annual event, weather permitting, he said.
The Way of the Cross began at 1 p.m. Sunday at St. Joseph Catholic Church on North Main Street in Brewer and culminated about 4:30 p.m. at St. John Catholic Church on York Street in Bangor. All but the final five of the 14 stations were re-enacted outside.
It was one of the first Stations of the Cross events to be held outdoors in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which covers the entire state. Similar events are held every three years at World Youth Day, typically held in August. Catholics in the Southern Hemisphere traditionally walk outside stations during Holy Week.
Walking in Christ’s footsteps is not a new idea, according to Griesbach.
“From the earliest days of the church, Christians commemorated the steps Jesus took on the way to his crucifixion,” the priest wrote in the introduction to the program for the event. “These steps, or stations, became known as Via Dolorosa, and eventually, the ‘Way of the Cross.’”
During the fourth century, pilgrims began traveling to Jerusalem to walk in Christ’s footsteps and “tangibly unite their suffering to his, in the hope of sharing in the joy of his resurrection,” Griesbach wrote.
“During the Middle Ages, many churches began to be decorated with sculptures representing the stations along the Way of the Cross,
he continued. “The Franciscans especially fostered the practice of praying the Stations of the Cross. From them we have inherited the traditional 14 stations prayed by so many throughout the world today.”
Those stations can be seen in Catholic and some Protestant churches around the world. In the Northern Hemisphere, worshippers typically move from station to station inside the church.
More than 100 members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish were involved in planning and presenting the event, according to the program. Another 300 or so people walked the 1.7-mile route and about 450 worshippers gathered inside St. John’s.
People who did not walk the route waited at stops along the way to observe one or two of the stations before the procession moved on. Richard Spencer, 67, and his wife, Geralyn Spencer, 62, both of Westminster, Mass., who are Baptists, were in Brewer over the weekend visiting their son’s family. Three generations of the family watched as the fourth station, when Jesus meets his mother, and fifth, where Simon helps him carry the cross, were re-enacted in Indian Trail Park in Brewer.
“This is bringing people together,” Christina Spencer, 34, said as the procession headed south on North Main Street toward Paradis Shopping Center, where the sixth and seventh stations were presented. “There are people everywhere gathered to watch, representing a variety of different backgrounds.”
Katherine Smith, 73, of Ellsworth and her friend Margaret Smith, 83, of Brewer waited at the corner of North Main and State streets to watch the procession cross the bridge from Brewer to Bangor. The women, who are not related but whose husbands were cousins, said they were raised Catholics and often had prayed the Stations of the Cross during Lent, but never outdoors.
“It was very realistic,” Laurie Kenney, 42 of Orrington said as she and her 9-year-old twin sons, Adam and Nick Kenney, ate soup in the basement of St. John’s. “It made you feel like you were back in those times. It was amazing to see all those people stand up and follow him.”
For Shawn Yardley, the director of health and community services for the city of Bangor, the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection is relevant in the 21st century.
“The readings along with the re-enactment made it real today for all of us,” he said. “For me, the words that were important are those that speak to caring for the least of us. That is the population I most often work with.”
Yardley, 54, of Bangor, administers the general assistance program for Bangor.
The text used in the readings was written by Pope Benedict XVI and published in 2005 in the book “The Way of the Cross.”
“It was really pretty powerful but tiring too,” Steve Charette, 16, of Hampden said of his role as a Roman soldier. “Being part of a group that carried out the crucifixion put it in a different perspective, but actually being one of the people who nailed Jesus to the cross made it a little more powerful.”
For Tim Mullen, it was “humbling” to portray Christ, but the 26-year-old Bangor man said he would “do it again in a heartbeat.”
“This time of year, what we did today, is what it’s really about, not chocolate candy,” Mullen said.
Stations of the Cross
1. Jesus is condemned to death.
2. Jesus takes up his cross.
3. Jesus falls for the first time.
4. Jesus meets his mother.
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
7. Jesus falls for the second time.
8. Jesus meets the weeping women of Jerusalem.
9. Jesus falls for the third time.
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross.
12. Jesus dies on the cross.
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross and given to his mother.
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.