The Occupy movement transformed the annual Toronto Good Friday walk in a very positive way. For the first time there was a sharing of the Eucharist—albeit with more inclusive prayers and with bread and vinegar as the elements. It felt like some of the centuries old barriers that were still in the minds of those of us coming together from various Christian traditions were finally permitted to melt way. The Occupy Toronto chaplains pushed us forward, a welcome change within a decades long tradition of challenging oppressive systems in this challenging of our own divisive practices.
I have been taking part in the Good Friday walks in Toronto since it began at the end of the 1970s. Some years I helped organise it; other years I took on specific tasks; some years, such as this year, I was a participant, sharing in and reflecting on the work of others. Every year I am reminded that our faith is a public and challenging one, remembering the calls to be peacemakers and to feed the hungry and house the homeless, to seek justice and build up an inclusive, loving community. I fail to fully live out this vision in my life, but the Good Friday walk helps me keep this part of my faith vivid and alive, ensuring that the ongoing search for social justice is a part of my worship and spirituality.
This year there were five stations—the beginning and the end in the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity and three in various places in down town. Some years there were more stations or a longer walk, but as occurs every year, matters of common concern were brought into the public sphere by people with a life-long commitment to radical, faith infused social justice.
We gathered first in the sanctuary—people from religious orders and downtown congregations, housing activists and peace workers, those seeking justice for first nations in Canada and those seeking access to water in the developing world—we gathered because in community there is something more than when we live in isolation. We share visions and commitment; we prod each other to do just a little more; we support one another in our personal trials; we don’t become of one mind but we do become part of one shared moment in time and place. Through readings, litany and music we were reminded of the suffering and death of Christ and encouraged to consider how the passion is played out in contemporary times.
Leaving the church we went to the square in front of Osgood Hall. Here the focus was on disappeared and killed aboriginal women. Hundreds of aboriginal women have gone missing with little or no investigation of their fate. While the current tragedy was the focus, this reality was linked to several hundred years of dispossession, to the experiences of many who went through the residential school system, to loss of spiritual and cultural traditions and to the ongoing blindness to the lived out realities of first nations people. At one point the question was asked—would our society be so passive if several hundred hockey players had disappeared, if several hundred ballerinas had been killed? We were given the hard task of considering what it is like for the brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of these women.
The next station was at Dundas Square. Here a silent flash mob were woven into a cross that filled much of the space. A few were asked to hold signs—drawing attention to the needs of the forgotten among our society. It was a different form of witness than we were used to—there were no speeches or prayers or songs. But we were present together, filling the square with a visual reminder of Christ among us. I left the square literally carrying the cross—taking the burden for the next stage of our journey.
It was the fourth station, in the Labyrinth behind the Eaton Centre and near the Church of the Holy Trinity, that the Toronto Protest Chaplains brought us together liturgically. For me a missing piece for all the years of the walk was the inability or unwillingness for the scattered expressions of my faith to come together around God’s table. We have, from the early years, gathered at the end around bread and soup, but we didn’t seem to bridge the sacramental gap. This year we did. In a celebration of God’s community and a call for all to share together—the transgendered, the differently abled, the poor, the dispossessed, the privileged—we were finally united in the meal that was born at the feeding of the multitude, given its nature at the Last Supper and opened eyes at Emmaus. It took the most radical among us to open us up to the most simplest of truths—all are welcomed to share in the gifts of God.
From the Labyrinth, we returned to the sanctuary of Church of the Holy Trinity. I left the cross near the side altar, a welcome setting down of a burden. I did not stay for the final station or the sharing of the meal of soup and bread afterwards. I left feeling confident that there is a community I am a part of that shares in bringing to life a new world where compassion, love and transformation are truly valued and greed, oppression and contempt for creation are no longer dominant.