Keeping the cross in common

Saturday, March 19, 2005

On Good Friday, Christians around the world will stop to reflect on Jesus' betrayal and suffering on the cross. They participate in prayer services, observe moments of silence and spend time in quiet meditation and reflection.

But in Cape Girardeau, one of the day's traditions has become a two-mile walk through the city's downtown. For the fifth year, the Downtown Council of Churches will sponsor the walk, beginning at noon at Old St. Vincent's Church.

The walk draws people of all faiths and ages. Those who cannot walk may ride in a van. Police escort the group, which grows throughout the afternoon.

The Rev. Bob Towner, rector at Christ Episcopal Church, developed the idea for the walk and has helped organize it every year. He organized a similar event in Iowa before moving to Cape Girardeau.

Towner said the event helps people reflect on what Jesus has given to them.

The one thing that all churches can gather around is the cross, Towner said. "We're all humbled by it and all silenced and all grateful."

Many of the stops along the way include places where redemption is happening, Towner said.

The route includes stops at the Family Counseling Center, the police and fire departments, the federal courthouse and city hall, the "media courtyard" on Broadway, the riverfront and the new Emerson Bridge over the Mississippi River.

The group will gather at noon and will leave by 12:15 p.m. from Old St. Vincent's. In case of rain, the service will be held in the church.

The Way of the Cross walk is reminiscent of a custom observed by pilgrims to Jerusalem, with stops for prayer at places in the city associated with Jesus' last hours and death.

These stops, or stations, often are marked by a plain, wooden cross on the wall or to mark the spot. In Cape Girardeau, volunteers carry the wooden cross with them as the walk progresses.

The cross is donated by Centenary United Methodist Church and is lightweight but designed to look authentic. "It's a cross that we use during Lent in our church, and we share it with the community," said the Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith, senior pastor at the church.

The cross stops at the stations, where people read Scripture and the group pauses to reflect. Silent prayer is offered.

"We stop at places where we try to do justice and mercy and places that speak the truth." Those are the same principles Jesus taught his disciples, Towner said.

The walk offers people a time for fellowship and a time to be together as they reflect on Easter, he said. "It's a perfect, teachable moment."

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