by Brother John Samaha, S.A.
Christians have never been required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as Muslims have been required to visit Mecca to commemorate Muhammad's hegira or flight. Rather Christian holy places have been transported to churches across the world in the form of the stations of the cross. "Making the stations" requires only moving from one station to the next. The stations themselves, although often accompanied by elaborate artistic depictions, are simply small wooden crosses.
A tradition holds that the Virgin Mary daily retraced the steps of the way of the cross. However, only in the Middle Ages did this devotion flourish. In the earliest centuries of Christianity the focus was on the risen Christ. Medieval Christians emphasized the passion and death of Jesus and wished to tread in his very footsteps. Those who could afford to do so made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Others had the Holy Land brought to them in the form of the stations of the cross, reproductions of the holy places of Jerusalem erected in their locales.
When the Franciscans were given custody of the holy places of Jerusalem in 1343, they aroused in the faithful an active interest in the passion of Christ. In the eighteenth century the Franciscan St. Leonard of Port Maurice, "preacher of the way of the cross," spread the devotion widely, making it possible for non-Franciscan churches t0 have the stations. Previously this was not allowed.
Originally fourteen stations were the norm. In 1975 Pope Paul VI approved a fifteenth station, the resurrection.