"Welcome to the 15th Annual Good Friday 'Walk with the Suffering,'" said Rosemary Johnston from the flatbed of the truck parked in front of the County Health Building on Pacific Highway. "We're going to be visiting different public institutions in downtown San Diego this morning, and at each station of the cross, we will remember a particular segment of our community which is suffering, in remembrance of Jesus' suffering on the road to Calvary." To her right knelt Jesus, played by a student from St. Augustine's High School. Pilate (who hailed from Our Lady of Peace -- all the other roles were played by women) stood before him, pointing a condemning finger. This was the first station, the first of 15 tableaus that the students would create and hold as one of the various speakers offered a reflection. The first suffering segment: the homeless. In Psalm 113, said the speaker, "God is pictured as very powerful, but very much connected with earth. He stoops, he condescends, he comes down to look. He lifts the poor from the dirt...and he invites us to lift.... If we have done it to the least of His brethren, it is as if we have done it to Christ himself."
Second station: Jesus takes up his cross. Remembered segment: victims of torture. We started by singing: "Where you there/when they nailed Him to the tree..." "Crucifixion was the most cruel and painful form of torture known in Jesus' day.... What meaning does love have if you allow torture to continue unopposed?"
The truck drove to the next location, in front of the County Administration Building. Jesus walked, followed by the women and the soldiers, followed by roughly 85 people from various denominations. The morning sun began to warm. As we walked, we sang: "Here I am Lord/Is it I, Lord?/I have heard you calling in the night..."
Third station: Jesus falls for the first time. Remembered segment: those affected by substance abuse. We sang: "Weakened, prodded, cursed and fallen/His whole body bruised and swollen..." "Avoid immorality," said the speaker, reading from Paul. "Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?"
Fourth station: Jesus meets Mary. Remembered segment: foster children. "The average child in foster care waits three years for placement.... I think we as a community need to...do whatever we can to lessen their suffering and address the brokenness that they experience."
We marched on, to the State Office Building at Ash and Front Streets, for the fifth station: Simon helps Jesus. Remembered segment: those without affordable health care. Here also, the sixth: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. A woman asked "that the Lord's mercy and love bring women who have had an abortion to a place of healing and reconciliation, that they will know they can be forgiven by God, and that they can forgive themselves because of what Jesus did for them in His crucifixion and death."
The marching song shifted to "Jesus, remember me/When you come into your kingdom" as we headed to the County Courthouse. A trolley driver doffed his hat as he passed. Seventh station: Jesus falls the second time, remembering the suffering caused by gang violence. "Religion is still the civilizing force that unites us all."
Station eight -- Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem -- brought some fire to the flatbed. The speaker was lamenting the lack of affordable housing. "The prophet Ezekiel said these words: I will seek the lost...and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice'.... The cross brings judgment on those who turn their backs on the needy."
"Ubi Caritas" was our song on the way to the Metropolitan Correctional Center for Jesus' third fall at station nine. There, a prison minister reminded us that "we're all going to need help being lifted up sooner or later," and that some of those in prison were "more free, because they know the sins they've committed and they've opened up their hearts to Christ."
Stations ten and eleven -- Jesus is stripped, then nailed to the cross -- were held outside the Federal Building, and recalled the sufferings of the undocumented; in particular, the lack of a just wage. "The final word to you arrogant rich...the groans of the workers you've used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You've looted the earth and lived it up, but all you have to show for it as a fatter than usual corpse."
We processed to the rotunda outside Horton Plaza for stations 12 and 13 -- Jesus' death and removal from the cross. The weather had turned cloudy and cold; the sky began to threaten. We recalled the suffering brought by mental illness and the degradation of the environment. The rain broke as we returned to the haunting lines of "Were You There?" for the long walk to the Broadway Pier. There, we huddled under a concrete overhang for stations 14 and 15 -- the burial and resurrection. A Quaker spoke against war, repeating Christ's command to "love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.... All war is evil; all wars bring destruction and suffering." A final song ("Lord of the Dance") and a responsive prayer closed out the procession: "Christ is risen!" "He is risen indeed, alleluia!"
Address: A circuit through downtown San Diego
Founded locally: 1991
Walk organizer: Rosemary Johnston
Congregation size: about 85
Dress: wide range, from suits and ties to jeans and T-shirts
Diversity: mostly Caucasian and Hispanic
Length of reviewed service: 3 hours