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For families walking through Lent

Stations of the Cross come in a variety of forms, aimed at helping all ages draw closer to Jesus

By Patricia Kasten | On Mission

GREEN BAY — One of the most common devotions during Lent is the Stations of the Cross. Many of us remember, as children in school or faith formation, praying these 14 moments at the end of Jesus’ life — from his condemnation to death to the tomb.

This traditional 14 Stations of the Cross — also called the “Way of the Cross” or the “Via Dolorosa” (the “Way of Sorrow”) — remains popular, especially during Lent.

Stations of the Cross prayed on Feb. 16, 2024, Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh – St. Mary site. Fr. Jerry Pastors led the stations. (Michael Cooney | For On Mission)  

However, there are several other forms of the Stations which might offer insights to families with young children or teenagers seeking to deepen their Lenten prayer experience.

Natalie Carney, pastoral youth minister at Lourdes Academy in Oshkosh, works with students in several grade levels.

“I would recommend finding a Stations of the Cross that fits your child(ren)’s age level,” she said. “We make sure to do this at school in order to help each age level of students to better understand, reflect and connect deeper with Jesus through them.”

Carney has various ideas for families, including taking each station individually — one a day.

“This would help everyone to better focus on what happened in that Station,” she said, “to really talk about it, discuss as a family. You could start this at the beginning of Lent and keep repeating the cycle throughout the entire season — or you could do it during the final 14 days of Lent to have this very meaningful prayer time together to help your family prepare for all that Jesus did for us so we can celebrate together on Easter with our risen Lord.”

Stations’ history goes back to Jerusalem

The Stations are one of the oldest devotions in the church and arose from the practice of early Christians retracing the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. 

Pilgrims visited Calvary and the place of Jesus’ burial and resurrection from the church’s earliest days. The popularity of that site grew after the Roman Emperor Constantine erected the first Church of the Holy Sepulcher there in the early fourth century. He did so under the guidance of his mother, St. Helen, who visited Jerusalem to find the site.

As Christianity spread across Europe, most people could not travel to Jerusalem. Instead, the practice of erecting local representations of Via Dolorosa became popular. This was especially true after the Crusaders returned from the Holy Lands, beginning in the 11th century.

The Franciscans received custody of Jerusalem’s “Holy Places” in 1335. However, since travel to Jerusalem was still out of reach for most people, the Franciscans also began to erect Stations of the Cross in Franciscan churches across Europe.

Walking with Mary

One related tradition from the early church is that the Blessed Virgin regularly walked the Via Dolorosa after her son’s Ascension. Today, one of the newer versions of the Stations is “Mary’s Way of the Cross.”

St. Bernard Parish in Appleton offers this devotion during Lent at 12 noon on Wednesdays.

“I encountered Mary’s Way of the Cross in the early 1990s and I was attending St. Mary Parish here in Appleton,” said Sherry Zwicky, coordinator of liturgy and music. “It really spoke to me. It was the first time in a while that the Stations had moved me.”

Zwicky added that she has since spoken with several other women who feel the same about Mary’s Way. “I think this is because Mary’s Way looks at it from her perspective as a woman or as a mother,” Zwicky said. “It does speak to a mother’s heart.”

Stations with children

There are several other forms of the Stations of the Cross, including some that could be used by families with children or teenagers.

Carney suggested coloring pages of the Stations for younger children and recommended sites such as catholickid.com. For older children, she suggested sharing the Stations through the perspective of various people who knew Jesus. 

This would include not just his mother, she said, but “Simon of Cyrene, the soldiers, Pontius Pilate, Veronica, the crowd, the women of Jerusalem. This allows (children) to think about the Stations in different ways instead of how we always experience them. It adds a depth to them.”

Zwicky had a similar suggestion and cited the “Scriptural Stations of the Cross,” first used by St. John Paul II in 1991 as a good tool.

“I think that would speak to high school students, college students and young adults,“  Zwicky said. “What I like is that each station has a scriptural basis. But there was also a perspective that could be shared of someone who would have been at that station. For example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is the perspective of Peter’s story.”

Through the apostles’ eyes

She noted that this reminded her of the popular TV series “The Chosen,” which also helps viewers see Jesus through the apostles’ eyes.

“It’s a different way of stepping into Jesus’ journey to the cross,” Zwicky added.

There are many other ways of praying the Stations of the Cross. A recent one is “A Thorn in My Side,” a “Way of the Cross for those with special needs,” offered by the Carmelite nuns at Holy Trinity Monastery in Kaneohe, Hawaii. For more information, email [email protected]

Several other forms, including “Ecumenical Stations of the Cross,” can be found at the website for the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops:


Stations of the Cross prayed on Feb. 16, 2024, Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh – St. Mary site. (Michael Cooney | For On Mission)

Using nature for elder members, as well as family walks

A final suggestion for Lent is for older members of the faith community and comes from St. Mary Parish in Omro and St. Mary Parish in Winneconne.

“Stations are ideal if you can walk them, but elders can’t do that if in a nursing home,” explained Lyn Zahorik, director of spiritual engagement for both parishes.

Each year, Zahorik compiles a booklet of nature photos for elder members, age 75 or older, linked to each station. For example, she said, a dead tree surrounded by evergreen trees can speak of Jesus’ dying on the cross. A broken-open cocoon can symbolize what some call the 15th station: Easter morning.

Zahorik also suggested that families can use the same idea during a nature walk.

“Part of the fun for them,” Zahorik said, “is looking at things in nature and finding things — even without them being in order (of the 14 Stations). Just asking, ‘Which part of Jesus’ story do you think this item speaks about?’”

Fr. Jerry Pastors, pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh, which hosts the Stations on Fridays and Saturdays during Lent, also said he feels they offer an invitation.

“Jesus invites us,” he said, “to enter into parts of the people he encounters on the Way of the Cross — from Simon of Cyrene to the soldiers, to those who jeer him along the way.”

Fr. Pastors said realizing this can help us enter a closer encounter with God.

“For example,” he said, “when Jesus falls down, that can remind us to ask God to pick us up.”

Growing in such understanding takes time, which is what Lent offers us — 40 days of time to draw closer to Jesus.

“The Stations aren’t something you can do just once,” said Fr. Pastors. “If we do something just once, we tend to forget about it. What would look different in our lives if we did that (a journey like the Way of the Cross) — not just during Lent, but every week. Then it becomes like a relationship, it has a basis in love.”

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