Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
The Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross) or Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows) is a popular devotion that sprang up in Jerusalem as pilgrims to that city began to retrace the steps of Jesus as he made his way to Calvary. The devotion first appeared in the fifth century. In the fourteenth century, the Friars Minor (Franciscan Friars) were given the care of the shrines of the Holy Land, and immediately became instrumental in the effort to spread this devotion. In order to give access to the devotion to the majority of the faithful who were unable to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the fourteen "stops" or "stations" of the cross were erected in churches throughout Christendom. One of the men responsible for this effort was St. Leonard of Port Maurice whose memory is kept today, November 26.
St. Leonard was also influential in spreading many other Catholic devotions; namely, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Immaculate Conception, and perpetual devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He himself erected no fewer than 571 "Stations of the Cross" throughout the city of Rome, including the famous example at the Colosseum of Rome which is usually the site at which the Holy Father makes a public appearance on Good Friday. Until the changes in Canon Law which were made in the 1980's, the erection of the Stations of the Cross was reserved to the Franciscan Friars.
As we remember this saint today, we are also drawing near to the end of another liturgical year. Each year revolves around this central mystery of our faith; namely, that God took on our human flesh and died on a cross and rose from the dead in order to redeem humankind from sin. This popular devotion helps us to remember the great lengths to which God went in order to demonstrate the great love God has for us all.