Pilgrimage Links Injustice With Suffering Of Jesus
Published: April 16, 2009
The Good Friday Pilgrimage stops at John Welsey Dobbs Plaza for the ninth station, “Jesus falls for the third time.” Father Edward Branch, Lyke House Catholic Center chaplain, spoke, asking participants to rush to those around them who suffer, much like Christians rush to the suffering Jesus on Good Friday. (Photo by Stephen O’Kane)
ATLANTA—Despite the call for heavy rain and severe thunderstorms, hundreds of people stayed dry during the 29th annual Good Friday Pilgrimage on April 10.
The pilgrims gathered on the steps of Georgia’s Capitol under a threatening sky the morning of Good Friday, but managed to walk the streets of downtown Atlanta without feeling a drop and were even greeted by the sun for a few brief moments.
Sponsored by the Parish and Social Justice Ministries of Catholic Charities Atlanta, in collaboration with the local Catholic Campaign for Human Development committee, the pilgrimage gave participants the opportunity to meditate on the Stations of the Cross while hearing important messages from speakers about current social justice concerns.
Susan Sullivan, director of Parish and Social Justice Ministries, greeted the crowd before the pilgrimage began, asking them to open their hearts and minds to the messages they would be hearing throughout the four-hour trip to several points of significance in downtown Atlanta.
“Allow the experience to sink in,” she encouraged the crowd.
After a brief prayer, led by LaSalette Father Jim Kuczynski, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, the group prayed the first station and then slowly and reverently walked across the street to City Hall, where the stations continued.
Walking shoulder to shoulder were men, women and children of many races, cultures and denominations, all participating for the same reason: to honor the death of Jesus and recognize many social issues that need attention.
At each of the stations, a different speaker commented on a particular social issue, from the justice system and racial inequality to hunger and HIV/AIDS.
The speaker at the first station, which focused on the justice system, was Kathryn Hamoudah, who shared the story of how she became so involved with life issues. Hamoudah, a native of Texas, recalled the story of Gary Graham, who was executed at 36 in the year 2000 for a murder he was convicted of committing when he was 18. His death penalty was contested until the end.
Following the story of Graham is what inspired Hamoudah to speak out against the death penalty, she said.
The death penalty is a life issue, she said.
“There is no dignity in being executed,” Hamoudah said. “We must not pick and choose which lives are more valuable.”
Other speakers included Nick Danna, executive director of Living Room, a nonprofit serving those with HIV/AIDS, Hawthorne Dominican Sister Mary Edwin, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, and Rabbi Scott Saulson.
Jack Murphy, who served on the committee that organized the event, said the pilgrimage was a great chance to bring people together. It was his third year participating and he was joined by his wife, Nancy, who was attending for the first time.
“It has been very rewarding for me personally,” Murphy said about preparing and participating in the pilgrimage.
The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of Cross, are a Christian tradition depicting the final hours of Jesus Christ. Originally, Christians in Jerusalem would retrace the steps of Jesus to honor and remember his Passion, death and resurrection. Stations of the Cross are most commonly observed during Fridays in Lent, especially on Good Friday.
The pilgrims participating in the Good Friday Pilgrimage used downtown landmarks as reminders of Jesus’ suffering and of those suffering today. Among the visited landmarks were Trinity United Methodist Church, Fulton County Family Court, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Freedom Quilt Memorial, Big Bethel AME Church, Ebenezer Baptist Church and the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
Following the seventh station, the crowd gathered at the Loudermilk Center, where representatives of the Lyke House Catholic Center, the Catholic ministry at the Atlanta University Center, provided fruit, pastries and drinks.
The brief stop allowed participants to get to know the other pilgrims a little better and also reflect on the messages they had heard.
Sybil Robinson, a parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua Church, attended for the first time this year, although she laughed as she said she had marched in spirit for the past 10 years.
“It is a lot to process,” she said, commenting specifically on the seventh station, which focused on the homeless.
It was powerful to be praying for the homeless while many who are homeless were sitting nearby, she said.
Heather Morris and her sister, Mandy, also attended for the first time and felt it “connected with things we see every day.”
Another young woman, Lyschel Davis, liked participating in the Stations of the Cross outside and particularly appreciated the social justice messages.
“It ties in religious things as well as social justice issues,” she said.
All three women said they plan to come back next year.
The Good Friday pilgrims then joined with participants of the Holy Week Interfaith Pilgrimage for Immigrants, who marched 50 miles throughout North Georgia during Holy Week as an expression of solidarity with immigrants.
The first stop during the second half of the Stations of the Cross was the Freedom Quilt Mural, designed and completed on the American Friends Service Committee Atlanta office building by artist David Fichter with the help of volunteers. The mural depicts men and women who committed their lives to the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace, such as Mahatma Ghandi, King, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks.
Pilgrims ended their quiet but powerful walk, which often drew the attention of passers-by, at the King tomb.
Colleen Smith, communications associate for Parish and Social Justice Ministries, said that despite the different beliefs of the crowd, a larger purpose brings them all together every year.
“The entire group is incredibly diverse,” Smith wrote following the pilgrimage. “It’s truly representative of God’s family and people want to be a part of that.”
“This year there were at least three major religions represented among participants, nine languages spoken and speakers talking on a range of justice issues and representing an array of organizations,” she continued. “Among all of our differences we share something bigger. We share a belief in the overall purpose of the event, which is to make known and reflect on injustices and to pray together for the courage to act with mercy and compassion. This brings us together year after year.”