Pilgrims unite and bear the cross together

Mar 21, 2024
More than 300 people walked the Pilgrim’s Way of the Cross from Lake Eola to St. James Cathedral in Orlando. Then pilgrims entered the sanctuary to spend time with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, followed by a light meal. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

ORLANDO | More than 300 people outnumbered the joggers and dog walkers of Lake Eola, Friday evening March 15. They were pilgrims who sang, prayed and bore the Good News that Christ came to save us all.

Over the din of car horns, a speaker proclaimed each of 14 Stations in the Pilgrims’ Way of the Cross as the crowd moved closer to St. James Cathedral.

Reaching the Fourth Station: Jesus meets His mother, a voice is heard reciting from Lamentations (1:10, 16). “At this I weep, my eyes run with tears. Come, all you who pass by the way, look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering.”

“This is the hope,” said Eddiel Rivera, St. James catechetical director. “The stations are a way of going deeper and walking with Christ as we meditate on the Passion. Apart from being good for us, we’re also hoping this is going to be a public witness for the greater community. We’re hoping people will see it and remember we’re in Lent, and the importance of the work of salvation.”

For Rivera, the stations help him remember exactly what it is that our Lord suffered for us.

“I think a lot of times it can be easy to get into the groove of things and just go through the motions as we go from Sunday to Sunday,” he said. “But being able to pray the Stations of the Cross helps bring back that sense of awareness — that this is what He did for me and how much it cost Him to give up His life for my salvation and the salvation of everyone.”

Bishop John Noonan, right, and Father Miguel González, rector of St. James Cathedral, pray at the closing of the Pilgrims’ Way of the Cross. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

That awareness resonates with Father Miguel González, rector of St. James Cathedral.

“We are doing this as a public witness of the incredible gratitude we have for what our Lord has done for us by offering His life on the cross, winning for us salvation and everlasting life, and forgiveness of sins.”

He said it is a powerful public witness because it reminds people, this is “a God that loves us, who sent His son to offer His life for us.”

Following the Stations of the Cross, pilgrims were welcomed into the cathedral to spend time adoring Christ in the Eucharist.

“It’s the Eucharistic Revival. We want to continue as a parish to strengthen an awareness and presence of Jesus in the Eucharist — body, blood, soul and divinity,” Father González said. “It is a reminder that death is not the end of the story. He is alive and He is with us. So, what better and beautiful way of experiencing and celebrating that victorious Resurrection than by presenting ourselves before the Lord, present in the Eucharist.”

For many pilgrims, like St. James parishioners Das and Claudia Valcich, it was their first time walking the stations outdoors. For Das, the Stations of the Cross have always been meaningful. He said participating in a large, outdoor witness made a public statement of faith.

Claudia found the experience moving, and added it was wonderful to see both English and Spanish communities come together for the bilingual stations. She and Das especially appreciated going before the Blessed Sacrament for Eucharistic Adoration.

“Ending with Adoration elevated the event,” Claudia said. “The stations end with putting Christ in the tomb, but Adoration was finishing the story.”

The outdoor stations were also new to Chris Denny and her family. She had not walked the Stations of the Cross since she was in grade school. Her daughter loved the images of each station, copies of the stations lining the walls of the transept in St. James Cathedral.

Albania Torres and her friend Peggy Staudigl traveled from Clermont to be part of the pilgrimage. “It was very beautiful to feel the Passion,” Torres said, adding the experience was tranquil and reflective.

Exiting the cathedral after Eucharistic Adoration, many pilgrims sat with friends and family to share a bowl of soup before heading their separate ways. Carmen Fuller enjoyed some soup with her friend Ileana Trujillo, who was taking in the beauty of the fellowship. Noting the unrest in the world, Fuller said she felt these public witnesses of faith are vital for people to “see, ask and learn — perhaps eventually becoming part of the Church.”

Seeing the world’s struggle with wars, hatred, and a deep sense of longing for truth and light, Lorna Rolón said evenings like this one — walking with Christ and partaking in His pain, remind us of the purpose for which we were created.

Simon Martinez stands behind friends Carmen Fuller, seated left, and Ileana Trujillo as they enjoy soup after walking the Pilgrims’ Way of the Cross in downtown Orlando. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

“We come because of love, in love, for love — because God is love. He gave us His son to teach us such simple, but powerful lessons. The Church does not create itself, it is created through community,” she said.

Simon Martinez, who sat with them, joked making the Via Crucis makes you feel young. “It is an exercise with God,” he said smiling. He recalled praying the stations as a teen in Nicaragua, where participants walk carrying an actual cross.

“Thinking about tonight and as we look toward Easter, one must reflect that the Lord is coming, and we must be closer to Him. We must continue going to Mass every Sunday, and leave nothing behind, but move forward, toward the Resurrection.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, March 21, 2024