Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

April 20, 2015

Over the years, participation in Edmonton's Outdoor Way of the Cross on Good Friday morning has very much become part of my life. In the beginning years, the route was downtown, the first year going over the High Level Bridge as far as the University Hospital.

More recently, the event has found its home in the inner city, with the procession this year starting and ending at Hope Mission, the largest homeless shelter in the city.

Several hundred people, from different Christian traditions, walk through the streets behind a large cross which different people take turns carrying. Scripture readings, prayers, hymns and reflections can be heard with the help of loudspeakers mounted on a pickup truck.

To my mind, this is an example of what Pope Francis is encouraging us to do when he calls for individual Christians and communities "to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries" (Evangelium Gaudium 20).

Different sites in the inner city are selected for "stations." Remembering the first Good Friday when Jesus was tortured and killed unjustly by crucifixion, the question is asked: where are people suffering and experiencing injustice today?

But just as Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday, a second question is asked: where are there signs of hope and new life today?

Each year an overall theme is selected. This year the theme was Justice and Reconciliation, based on a verse from Paul: "All this is from God, who reconciled us through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5.18).

At the start of the walk, Linda Winski, a long-time member of the organizing committee, explained that the theme of reconciliation was chosen this year as a follow up from the Edmonton Truth and Reconciliation Commission event a year ago where pain and suffering associated with the Indian residential schools was named, and paths of healing and reconciliation were initiated.

This year each of the eight stations highlighted an area where suffering and brokenness is being experienced today, and where societal projects of reconciliation are underway.

One of the first stations was in front of the Marian Centre and was led by members of the local l'Arche community. The call was for us to participate in building inclusive, welcoming communities "where those with physical and mental challenges are embraced as equal members of our society."

The example of Jean Vanier, founder of l'Arche, was named, followed by the Gospel reading of the beatitudes.

HEALING PROGRAM

The station that made the deepest impression on me was at Ambrose Place, a recently opened housing facility for indigenous peoples moving from homelessness through Housing First, and those suffering from addictions and other challenges in need of a supportive housing environment.

The healing program at Ambrose Place is rooted in aboriginal spirituality. The building has a dedicated ceremonial space. The theme was Indigenous and Settler People Together for Justice and Reconciliation. Prayers were led by a team of indigenous people.

Construction of Ambrose Place had been delayed by polarized debates over the concentration of social housing in inner city neighbourhoods, with construction stopped at one point as a result of a lawsuit brought by a local community league.

HOSPITALITY, RECONCILIATION

There was a striking experience of hospitality and reconciliation when staff at Ambrose Place came out and offered welcome and refreshments to those walking by in the procession.

The walk ended at Hope Mission. The closing prayer, titled a Litany of Commitment, ended with the words "Transform us, loving God, to be Gospel people, living in a culture of reconciliation and justice that overflows in every thought and choice and act of our daily lives."

This special outdoor event takes place only one day a year. However, it poses an important challenge for me that carries on.

EXPERIENCE OF ALIENATION

Like most of us, my usual worship and public prayer takes place on Sundays and other occasions in my parish church.

However, because of this Good Friday experience, I am often led to ask myself throughout the year about the words I hear in church "what does this mean on the street, especially for those who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, discrimination and alienation in Edmonton and around the world today?"

(Bob McKeon: sjustice@caedm.ca)