In early 2011, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ asked me and my spouse to come to Manhattan. We were to join him for the annual Pax Christi Stations of the Cross, which takes place in New York every Good Friday. I had never heard of the event, nor had I read Berrigan’s book, Stations: The Way of the Cross.
In this moving collection of poems (with terracotta reliefs by Margaret Parker) the streets of lower Manhattan constitute a modern-day Calvary, the fallen homeless recalling Christ’s three falls on the way to the Crucifixion. Those still standing form a march of the living dead. There are beggars on buses, poor people pushing their belongings in shopping baskets, women living in the underground subway stations. We follow them “with every step we take in public, in every neighborhood,” tracing the via dolorosa of John Doe, as he picks up his cross on the corner of Second Avenue and Nameless Street. At the Ninth Station, John Doe falls for the third and final time—“John-without-any-dough,” we might call him, fallen, penniless, and abandoned. “These homeless,” Berrigan writes, “live out in dreadful, literal detail, the poverty we would rather conceal from God [and] from ourselves.” But they do so with great dignity and faith, inspiring compassion, and transforming the via dolorosa into a “school of mercy.”
So on April 22, 2011, together with Berrigan, we began our Stations of the Cross in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza near the United Nations on the East Side of Manhattan. There, we prayed for peace among nations, a world without war, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Later, at the Times Square Army Recruiting Station, we repeated these prayers for all those who die on the cross of militarism, invoking God’s mercy on soldiers in all armies, prisoners of war, and those held in solitary confinement. In front of a movie theater, we prayed to stop the glorification of violence, and for the estimated 1 million annual victims of sexual trafficking. Standing next to several expensive restaurants, we prayed for those who walk the streets hungry, the 47 million Americans dependent on food stamps, the twenty thousand homeless children in New York City, and the dozens of individual homeless people we passed on our way. In front of a bank, we prayed for economic justice: not only for an end to financial greed and the relentless quest for profits, but for a fairer distribution of wealth, for health care, and for a living wage for all.