Stations of the Cross at Ateneo de Manila University: Some observations and suggestions

I was able to attend the Ateneo de Manila University’s Stations of the Cross last Friday.  I attend this same procession two years ago and I feel it is not a good way to start the Lenten Season.

I   shall begin first with what I like about the Stations of the Cross.

  1. I get to see Jesuit priests and seminarians wear their black and white cassocks.  Instinctively, I would imagine a sword dangling on their belts as in Samurai X; but since Ignatius offered his sword to our Lady, then we should not expect Jesuits to wield swords.
  2. High school students carrying the statue of Mater Dolorosa, the statue of Our Lady wrapped in the darkness of sorrow.  Two years ago they sang the Latin version of “By her cross her vigil’s keeping stands the mournful mother weeping”.  Now we don’t hear it anymore, but at least they still sing the “Dakilang Pag-ibig” of Fr. Hontiveros, S.J.  I now its Ilonggo version by heart because we always sing it during our Lenten processions in the Parish of Villamonte, Bacolod City since I was a boy.   Dakilang Pag-ibig is in spirit of the Gregorian chant tradition.
  3. The readings are all scriptural.  Some of them are from Isaiah’s Songs of the Suffering Servant.

Now, what I don’t like are the following:

  1. The leading crucifix is an abstract figure of crowns and sticks.  Christianity is not an abstraction or an idea in Greek Philosophy.  God became man and made his dwelling with us.  His suffering and death is real.  Thus, we must draw Christ as he is, as real as possible, complete with gaping wounds and blood flows.
  2. What is the use of violet flags with white crosses hastily painted?  They look like the banners of leftist groups who hide their numbers by waving large flags.  I think the violet flags are meant to represent each station of the cross.  Maybe it is better to buy a float with statues depicting each station of the cross.  We can also put large pictures in tarpaulin per station.
  3. High school boys wear black shirts and they act out certain plays.  Sometimes they are silent while dancing, if dance it was, sometimes they shout–naming the calamities that beset our country.  They remind me of the ritual dance and shouts of the boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies after they killed the pig: “Kill the beast, cut his throat, spill his blood.”  This is jarring to the ears and I do my best not to look at them.  The stations of the cross became like a political rally.  I think it is better to make the boys make a separate play outside of the procession, which depicts the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.  This is an ancient Filipino tradition and there are old scripts on this.  It is called, the “Pasyon”.
  4. One person gives a reflection on the reading and I am one of them.  I think the reflection should be one paragraph long not four.  Also, the reflections tend to become too secular that we lose the sufferings of  Christ in the picture.  I prefer that we stick with age-old reflections on the stations of the cross for two reasons.  First, there is an imprimatur of the bishop on it, so you can be assured that the reflections have nothing contrary to faith and morals.  Second, everybody–in all time and space– can relate to the reflection and not just a few people.
  5. There is no prolonged kneeling at the Station, “Jesus Dies on the Cross.”  God is dead.  Are words enough?  This is the cross of Christ.  On it hung the savior of the world, as in the prayer for the Easter Vigil.
  6. There is no rosary.  What is a better way to meditate on the Passion of Christ than to pray the rosary?  St. Louis de Montfort says that group rosary is better than individual rosary, because demons cannot break the prayer of a group, since it is easier to break a single stick than a bundle of sticks.  Also in group prayer, each member benefits from the prayers of the whole group.  If an individual joins a group of 100 praying one Hail Mary, this is equivalent to individually praying 100 Hail Mary’s.

I really look forward to a more traditional Stations of the Cross at the Ateneo de Manila University.  You don’t have to improve on it to make it relevant by modern standards, which surprisingly turns off lots of youth.  If there are 7000 persons in the Ateneo de Manila University and only 100 showed up for the procession, that says something.  We have been doing these University Stations of the Cross for years and the turnout is still dismal.  After several years of failure, I think it is time to go back to the time-tested traditional Stations of the Cross.  If somebody likes to bet with me, I  shall bet 10: 1 that  the turnout will be ten times more.