For two hours and two miles, community members reflected on suffering and sorrow, pausing to pray as they emulated the journey of Jesus to Mount Calvary.
Some 50 individuals gathered at the Franciscan Spirituality Center Friday morning, taking part in the annual Good Friday Justice and Peace Stations of the Cross silent prayer walk to Riverside Park.
Children, adults and the elderly convened at 10 stations along the way to recognize the individuals served at each location, beginning with St. Rose Convent, and take to heart the plights they may face.
At each station, a community leader led a prayer before the crowd joined in song, reciting the Cry of the Poor in unison:
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Blessed be the Lord.”
As the sun brightened the sky and a faint breeze rustled the trees, Dr. Paul Mueller, regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System; Cheryl Hancock, executive director of Coulee Recovery Center; Keith Purnell, director of military aligned student support and Recruitment at Viterbo University; Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, founder of the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery; Laurie Sullivan of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Jan Wellik, founder and director of Eco Expressions; and the Rev. Joanne Richmond, senior pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, proceeded along the sidewalks, two individuals keeping a light beat on the drums in pace, before taking turns leading prayers inspired by each stop.
At St. Rose Convent, the group prayed for nonviolence and migrants: “Let everything you do, be done in love.
“Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations. Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect. Let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows.
At St. Clare Health Mission and Coulee Recovery Center, prayer was dedicated to access to healthcare and affordable treatment options.
“Our health is a gift that sometimes we have abused and misused. We are sorry. May we be willing to accept the responsibility of our wellness choices. May we open our eyes to compassionately see your suffering and be willing to walk in search of healing.”
Standing before Lincoln Middle school, the group recited, “Families and communities suffer when our children are in trouble or believe they have no future or when they are afraid to go to school because of gun violence. We pray for safe neighborhoods and schools for our children.”
In recognition of hunger and inclusivity, a few statistics were shared at the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church: More than 40% of households in the La Crosse area struggle to afford basic needs and one in 10 households live in poverty.
“God of compassion, enfold them in your gentle love and teach us the ways of your understanding and mercy.”
Human trafficking and respect for life were acknowledged at Cameron Park and hospitality to the homeless at Franciscan Hospitality House.
In the words of Fr. Donald Wester of All Saints Parish in St. Peters, Mo., the group prayed in unison: “Help us not be hypocrites of lip service but the disciples of action. Keep our hearts soft enough to keep hearing the cry of the hungry and the homeless.”
At station seven, the Salvation Army, shelter and services were recognized as the group was reminded that each year nationwide, 600,000 families and 1.35 million children experience homelessness. The eighth stop, the County Jail, brought prayers for restorative justice and care of offenders.
“We mourn that incarceration has become an industry. ... We mourn our failure to provide mental health and addiction treatment for the suffering in our prisons and jail.”
Reaching Riverside Park, a prayer for the care of veterans was recited at the cross, before the walk concluded at the Mississippi River.
“Creator God, whose spirit moved over the face of the waters, who gathers the seas into their places and directs the courses of the rivers, who sends rain upon the earth that it should bring forth life, we praise you for the gift of water.”
Community member Maggie Rauschl, who pushed daughter Tova, 2 months, in her stroller for the duration of the walk, was grateful for the opportunity to follow the Stations of the Cross in the open air and connect “what Jesus went through with problems in our community.”
“There are all different types of people (participating) — probably not all of us are of the same faith background,” Rauschl said. “It shows people care.”