THOUGHTS ON THE 2011 ECUMENICAL GOOD FRIDAY SOCIAL JUSTICE STATIONS OF THE CROSS

I was a young activist when I first participated in the Ecumenical Good Friday Social Justice Stations of the Cross. I am now deep in middle age. The social justice world I am a part of has changed in many ways since I first publically claimed a belief in peace and in social and economic justice. Organisations have come and gone; causes moved in and out of fashion. There have been years when I’ve helped organise the event; other years where I shared responsibility for one of the stations; times when I filled in where needed and others when I participated only in spirit. No matter what my level of participation is, the experience of the Good Friday Social Justice Stations of the Cross, the consistent and persistent witness in the streets of Toronto on Good Friday has proven to be a sustaining and renewing part of my life.

This year my involvement in advance of Good Friday was very small. I was asked to circulate the press release to my media contacts. Thus I had some advance knowledge of this year’s theme—Despised and Rejected—and the focuses of most of the stations. The events of the G20 summit in Toronto, the problems of the people of Palestine and injustice in the Canadian criminal justice system dominated the walk this year. I was surprised, given the fact that Good Friday fell on Earth Day, the environment wasn’t woven into this year’s theme. None-the-less this year, like in the past, the organisers did find subjects that easily linked the passion of Christ to the passion and sufferings of the current day.

And, while one never knows the results of sending out releases and PSAs, I was pleased to note that details of Good Friday appeared both in Now Magazine and on the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s on-line event calendar. It is rarer now than in my youth for events to be seen to appeal both to the progressive community and the more traditional wing of the Christian faith community. Media rarely covers the social justice Good Friday walk, preferring spectacle to challenging content, but word of the event is spread is certainly spread in advance with their help.

The gathering of people in the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity was a homecoming of veterans of many ecumenical struggles for peace and justice sprinkled with a leavening of those with new energy and visions. People I knew from the Student Christian Movement, the Catholic Worker, Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative, Homes Not Bombs, Alliance for Non-violent Action, United Farm Workers….people I was arrested with at anti-Darlington protests in the 1970s and others who currently sit with me on community boards were there to share the memories and dreams of generations of commitment to a better world.

As part of the welcoming to Holy Trinity we were reminded that the sacred space we were in was on the traditional home of the Mississauga First Nations, a clear but unstated reminder that those seeking justice often do so at the expense of those who are dispossessed. The formal beginning of the Stations of the Cross was a weaving together of scripture, prayer and hymns that told the story of Christ’s passion and linked the gospel message to the challenges facing our world today.

People left the sanctuary and walked to the front steps of Old City Hall Courts.  As we neared it I was asked to lead a short responsive prayer at this station, which delighted me. This station, Punishing the Punished, focused on the ideal of restorative justice—an alternative to the traditional justice system that I have long been an advocate for. The major activity at this station was the reading of an excerpt from David S. Craig’s Tough Case by David S. Craig and Emma Prestwich of Roseneath Theatre. The reading was a short dialogue between a worker for a restorative justice programme and the son of a crime victim. While a bit didactic, it raised significant issues around the justice system and who is caught up in it from the perspectives of both victims and offenders.

The walk then progressed to a station at the corner of King and Bay Streets. This station, The G20 in Toronto, had two major responses to the G20 summit held in Toronto last June. There was a reading of a statement from a young man unintentionally caught up in the mass arrests. We heard of arbitrary arrests, dehumanising conditions and the erosion of trust in the police as being there for us. Following this reading there was a long responsive litany focusing on issues that the G20 did not address or resolve during their summit in Toronto. Concerns such as the rights of members of the LGBT communities, women’s right, the degradation of the environment, corporate greed, the rights and needs of various indigenous people, destructive mining practices, victims of civil strife and victims of natural disasters were touched on. Participants were challenged to leave the station to express in practical ways the shared desire for peace, justice and dignity.

The next station was in front of University Ave. Courts. This station, Secret Trials. Who are we protecting? What are we afraid of?, looked at the reality of 5 men who had been imprisoned under security certificates, which permit indefinite detention without charges and based upon secret evidence which neither the accused or their counsel have access to. This station was facilitated by Friends of the Secret Trial 5. Here an outline of the realities faced by the 5 men who had been imprisoned but since released to house arrest on very restrictive conditions was read. A short presentation that illustrated who has access to the information on which the security certificates were issued (judge, crown attorney, special court appointed advocate) and who doesn’t (the accused, their counsel) helped make clear the unfairness of the process within which security certificates are issued.

The next station was back at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Here the theme was Despised and Occupied: Palestinian Human Rights. Co-ordinated by members of the Canadian Interfaith and Intercultural Alliance for Palestinian Human Rights, the focus was on the plight of the Palestinian people, particularly those who lived in Gaza during a 22 day siege. This station included a responsive prayer, with a sung response in Arabic: Yarabba ssalami amater alayn ssalam. Yarabba sslami im la’quluban ssalm. (You, God of peace, send down your peace on our world. You, God of peace, fill our hearts with your peace.)

The final station, also in the sanctuary of Holy Trinity, was primarily a closing litany of commitment. We were reminded that the work of the day continues and, like Christ’s passion, the suffering of the world is there as a challenge to us in our seeking to be faithful presence in the world.
Once the formal Stations of the Cross was over, soup and bread was available for people to share.

I left the gathering feel encouraged and inspired but also feeling more could have been done during the day to show a unique Christian response to the problems of the day. My faith has lead me to pacifism, for example. I’d like to have seen explored in the light of the problems faced by people such as the Palestinians, Egyptians and others who have a long history of dealing with oppressive forces both internally and externally. How should a faith founded by criminals, one of whom refused to have force used in his defence, best respond to the challenges of dealing with security forces? And, given the ongoing crisis of the physical creation, focusing on human institutions rather than our shared impact on the world left a gap in the experiences of the day. I acknowledge that in a few hours it is hard to address all concerns and look at things from every perspective. But although I left the Good Friday walk uplifted and encouraged, I left feeling not quite full.

This walk is always a work in progress. On September 17th there will be a brainstorming meeting starting the work for next year. For details contact egfw@goodfridaywalk.ca.

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