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Were You There: Are We Also Innocent Bystanders?

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Editor’s Note: Paula Scraba, OSF and Associate Professor at St. Bonaventure University, reflects on when she attended a live reenactment of the Stations of the Cross which made Christ’s Passion a very real and present reality.

The first thought that came to mind in reading the theme of “Were You There?” was my experience on Good Friday in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The parishes in the Waukegan, IL area gathered to have a live reenactment of The Way of the Cross.

Previously to being missioned to Waukegan, IL, I was in the La Cruces diocese in New Mexico. Students from the Confirmation program in Chamberino would have a live pageantry of the Stations of the Cross. The students were on the flatbed trailer and the parishioners followed behind. The last stop was Calvary, which brought us to a desert area of town. It was through this experience of living in New Mexico that I came to understand the devotion of the people there for the Crucified Christ. “Were You There?” was part of their everyday, lived experience. It was unbelievable to see drug dealers, gang leaders, and prostitutes with their grandmothers, all on their knees on a Mt. Cristo Rey pilgrimage.

When I moved to Illinois, I expected the Way of the Cross in Waukegan to be very similar, since most of the parishioners were also of Mexican descent.  However, what actually happened was something I will never forget.  

As we walked, the crowd kept growing with thousands of people pushing forward. They started yelling, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” People would spit on the Christ character, kick, taunt, and throw things at him. We just watched. Yes, Mary and the women were there in their traditional roles with Jesus. But no one in the crowd showed any sympathy towards them or tried to stop anything.

The crucified Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished,” and bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. (John 19:30) Only then was there silence, and people started walking away as if to say, what did I just witness? Jesus was innocent, and I did nothing to stop it.

Since then, and on every Good Friday to this day, I think of that experience and ask myself, “Why didn’t I do anything to try and stop it?” I kept thinking that was the way it was supposed to be, but did it have to be that way for those that were there?

I ask today, are we also innocent bystanders to the injustices we see around us, and can we make a difference?

Maybe instead of asking “Were you there?” the question should be, “Are we there today?”

Reflection Question: How can you take action today against an injustice around you?

Paula J. Scraba O.S.F., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Physical Education Department in the School of Education at St. Bonaventure University. She earned a graduate degree in Franciscan Studies from the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University, where she teaches Catholic Franciscan Heritage. Her master’s thesis, Tracing the Social Justice Movement of Franciscans Today through the Writings of Francis and Clare, became the foundation for research combining Spirituality of Sport and Franciscan Spirituality as a model for service learning programs. Paula serves on the National Board as a facilitator for the Franciscan Institute Build With Living Stones Program and is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington, D.C.