Christ’s Passion in the open air

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For thousands of years, Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to see where Christ taught, died and rose again. Each Lent when Catholics meditate on the Stations of the Cross, they bring a bit of that pilgrimage experience into their spiritual lives.

In the Middle Ages, a desire to see the place where Jesus walked, coupled with difficulties traveling to Jerusalem, led to the creation of Holy Land reproductions. In Germany and the Netherlands, Catholics wrote special prayers to recollect the number of times Christ stopped on His journey to Calvary, whether out of fatigue, the demand of the soldiers or through His own desire to speak to the men and women witnessing His passion. Other Christians would walk from church to church, dwelling on the many sorrows of Christ.

As time went on, devotions like these grew into the 14 Stations of the Cross the church recognizes today. St. Leonard of Port Maurice, a Franciscan friar, constructed more than 572 Stations of the Cross in Italy. To celebrate the Holy Year in 1750, Pope Benedict XIV asked Leonard to construct a Way of the Cross in the Colosseum in Rome and encouraged all priests to create Stations for their own parishes. Now, every Good Friday the pope leads a candlelit procession of the Stations at the Colosseum.

While nearly all Catholic churches have Stations in their sanctuaries, many also have placed them on a path outside. The outdoor Stations give the faithful a chance to walk the Way of the Cross in the midst of nature.

At St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, the sisters commissioned cream-colored reliefs and placed them in the cedar grove by their convent. Benches throughout the Stations provide spots for journaling and reflection. The sisters call their property a "place of peace," filled with gardens where people can come for quiet prayer.

Likewise the Stations at St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria are arranged in a rose garden with other memorials and religious sculptures, such as the Pietà and a life-size painting of the Divine Mercy. Each station is a colorful painting that shows the drama of Christ's crucifixion.

In Arlington, Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Church displays each white Station on the brick wall surrounding the parking lot. The sculptures emphasize the emotional journey of Christ by zooming in on each participant's face, showing the tender look of love between Jesus and His mother, or the anger in the eyes of the executioner.

The Stations of the Cross at San Damiano Spiritual Life Center in White Post were made by Eagle Scout Eric Tollis in 2012, who dedicated the project to his father, a carpenter and a musician who died after the Stations were completed. The path is lined with more than 1,000 bricks. Tree limbs create a canopy over the Stations.

The Mount Tabor Catholic Community in Vienna made outdoor Stations in the mid-1990s, and later colorfully painted the wood burnings. Men of the community laid wooden boards to mark the path through the trees. When praying the stations, the community rotates between several devotional prayers.

"We use some different readings, one by Archbishop (Fulton) Sheen and some others that do the Stations from Mary's perspective," said Bill Nanna, a longtime member of the community. "The words are very meaningful. They give you an idea of what Jesus went through. Every time He (falls), it isn't Him falling so much as it reminds us that we fall and we should just get up and keep going forward."

To visit:

Mount Tabor Catholic Community

2363 Hunter Mill Road, Vienna

703-261-6857

San Damiano Spiritual Life Center

125 Old Kitchen Road, White Post

540- 868-9220

Call ahead or inform the office once you arrive.

St. Lawrence Church

6222 Franconia Road, Alexandria

703-971-4378

Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Church

915 S. Wakefield St., Arlington

703-553-0370

Benedictine Sisters of Virginia

9535 Linton Hall Rd, Bristow

703-361-0106

Open from sunrise to sunset.

Visit your local Catholic churches and communities to find more outdoor Stations.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016