HAMPDEN, Maine — Jefferson Adams isn’t a carpenter, but he has spent quite a bit of time this week sawing and hammering at St. Matthew Catholic Church. Adams, 18, of Hampden, also spent a good part of each day praying.
He was one of 25 high school-aged Catholics in St. Paul the Apostle Parish who participated in the Summer Youth Conclave. The parish is made up of Catholic churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport.
Participants are completing an outdoor Stations of the Cross among the pine trees on the grounds of St. Matthew’s between the church and the rectory, Anne Marie Coleman, director of faith formation for the parish, said Thursday. The clearing of trees for the path began last year. The decision to have members of the youth group complete the project was made earlier this year, she said.
The parish created a live outdoor Stations of the Cross on Palm Sunday. It began at St. Joseph Catholic Church on North Main Street in Brewer and ended at St. John Catholic Church on York Street in Bangor. Many of the teenagers taking part in the conclave this week, including Adams, had been involved in that project. More than 100 parishioners were involved in its execution and hundreds more participated.
“Being outside seems more real,” Adams said Thursday. “Praying the Stations of the Cross is more spiritual outside in nature.”
The Hampden Academy graduate said that praying the stations with so many people created a sense of community.
“When you are alone, on the path, you are more able to focus on what God’s trying to tell you and on your own faith,” Adams, who will attend the University of Maine this fall, said.
In addition to completing the path, the teenagers are building wooden shrines in which the stations will be placed to help protect them from the elements. They will be attached to the trunks between six and nine feet off the ground. Plans include building benches on which people may rest and meditate along the path, Coleman said.
“This is a good way for me to give back to the community that has given so much to me,” Mickayla Hagar, 17, of Hampden said. “I feel that the outdoor procession [on Palm Sunday] was something we did for others so they could enter the Way of the Cross. Here, on the path, it’s going to be more personal.”
Hagar will attend the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio this fall.
The conclave began Tuesday and will end Saturday. Participants follow the daily prayer schedule in the Liturgy of the Hours. Each day begins at 8:30 a.m. with morning prayer and ends at 9 p.m. after a nighttime prayer.
The idea for a permanent outdoor Stations of the Cross has been brewing in the mind of the Rev. Seamus Griesbach for more than a year.
Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Coleman’s and Griesbach’s alma mater, has an outdoor Stations of the Cross. There also is one in the Vatican Gardens in Rome. The priest attended Pontifical North American College there.
A large outdoor Stations of the Cross event is a part of World Youth Day, held every three years.
Walking in Christ’s footsteps is not a new idea, he said earlier this year.
“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 Palm Sunday 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.
Griesbach said Thursday that the spiritual experiences people have at a large outdoor event and on a path through pine trees are two sides of the same coin — the need to gather and worship in community and stepping back from daily distractions.
“Walking the Stations of the Cross in this setting will allow people to think about deeper things, the things that are most true,” the priest said. “It will allow them to be more rooted in the world and truly grounded by their faith.”
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.