By John Schlachter
Every year, on the Wednesday of Holy Week, Assumption sixth graders set off from the school after 9 a.m. Mass on a five-mile journey around Hibbing, praying the Stations of the Cross at 14 sites around the town.
The “Cross Walk” is a kind of living stations that the sixth-grade teacher, Doris Kolodji, put together when St. Leo’s and Assumption merged campuses in the last decade. This year, students will likely be traveling in mild weather, but last year the Cross Walk was in two-plus feet of snow.
The aim of the Cross Walk is not to publicly display a holier-than-thou attitude or shame others into praying but to put faith into action. The goal is to learn how to be generous as Christ was generous on the Way.
The walk begins with a brief prayer in the gym with the whole student body, and the sixth graders ask that the rest pray for them. Each sixth-grader then has a chance to carry the six-foot tall cross a while between stations.
At each station, students pray for the sacrifices and needs of the people at that site. For example, at the fire hall, which corresponds with Jesus taking up the cross, students pray for the generosity and protection of the firefighters. At the courthouse, where one of Jesus’ falls is remembered, students pray for those in need of mercy who enter there.
When students start out, they have energy! They are upbeat and chatty between stations. By the end they’re tired and talk much less. As they travel, one of the adults on the walk keeps in contact with the school office to say where they are on the route.
Parents and parishioners will call in and ask where they are and join in for a station or two. Sometimes passers-by stop and pray one station. Occasionally, someone will follow along in their car. This year’s bunch is excited to go: The challenge of the walk is a big motivator.
Ms. K (as the students call her) always has the students make a final stop at Blessed Sacrament Church at the end of the walk. It is the time to pray for hope in the resurrection that is to come. She got the idea by partaking in a Living Stations in Chicago many years ago.
Says Ms. K, “It was such a privilege to experience, it was life changing . . . when you prayed in front of the homeless shelter you knew you were at the homeless shelter! It was moving.”
To see students have a similar experience is a gift. Some of them learn courage to be out in public doing something so visible while paying no mind to the attention.
Many learn humility and the value of quiet as they get tired on the walk.
Most learn about the kind of service that people do in their town that they didn’t even know existed. All learn how to pray in an open, receptive way.
John Schlachter is principal of Assumption Catholic School in Hibbing.