By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
ST. JOSEPH – Have you ever wondered how Jesus’ friends and followers felt as they walked with him through the streets of Jerusalem to the hill called Golgotha? About 125 people got a glimpse of that emotion on Good Friday as they followed the Way of the Cross during the Living Stations service at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in St. Joseph.
A group of Kansas Citians, mostly employees of Catholic Cemeteries Associated, traveled by shuttle bus to attend also.
The Living Stations prayer service is vastly different from attending the Stations of the Cross in a church. Both are prayerful and introspective, but actually walking from one station to the next can be a powerful opportunity to remember Jesus’ suffering and death in a personal way.
The Stations of the Cross are a unique aspect of Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The Way of the Cross section is laid out over about 4.5 acres in the cemetery’s center. A large granite monument, depicting the Pieta on one side and the Risen Christ on the other, is the focal point of the section. The monument was set in place in 1967.
Outlining the perimeter of the section are individual, 4 foot high Stations of the Cross. Each was donated by a family in memory of a loved one, and the family name is imprinted on the station.
For years, Catholics would bring family and friends to the cemetery to pray the Stations of the Cross individually. Then in 1994, Father Rick Dierkes, then-pastor of Co-Cathedral parish, thought the Stations presented a unique, personalized Good Friday devotion and decided to offer them to the St. Joseph faithful.
He assembled a prayerful journey – a narrative, reflection and hymn for each Station- and invited Catholics to join him at noon on Good Friday to walk with Jesus on the Way of the Cross.
The service was successful enough that Father, later Msgr., Dierkes decided to repeat it in 1995, and also began keeping an unofficial record of the weather and attendance. By 2005, when he became too ill to lead the service, the tradition was firmly established. Wanting to keep it going, Father Tom Ludwig, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, stepped up and took over. He has continued the tradition, even keeping track of the weather and attendance, as Msgr. Dierkes, who died in 2008, had.
Father Ludwig recalled that in 2007, the temperature was 14 degrees with a wind chill of -4, and still 30 people had come to walk the Way of the Cross. April 6 this year was gorgeous, with a light wind, blue skies and temperatures in the mid 70s. Babies in strollers, grandparents who walked a little slower than in previous years, and many in between, reverently walked the perimeter of the Way of the Cross, praying, singing and quietly thinking before each station: “Were you there when they the crucified my Lord?”… “When have I been falsely accused, or falsely accused someone else?” … “When have I fallen under the weight of a heavy burden? or helped someone else carry theirs?”
Father Ludwig’s voice was carried, literally, by a wireless amplifier, hauled from one Station to the next by Ray Guardado and his grandson, another tradition.
By the time the 14th Station, Jesus is Laid in the Tomb, was reached, a reflective quiet had overtaken those walking the Way of the Cross. As they returned to their cars, there was little chit chat, even small children has ceased tossing sticks and playfully teasing each other. The spirit of reflective prayer remained with those who had participated in the Living Stations as they returned to their homes or jobs in St. Joseph and in Kansas City.