USA. By Rodrigo Fernández, Austin, Texas•
What an unbelievable experience. I still can’t understand how it happened the way it did. After two months of preparation, meetings, logistic plans, forms and applications and permits and stress; the result was so much more than we could have planned. Our Blessed Mother’s hand was very tangibly felt.
1 pm at the cathedral; the cast getting ready, the police double checking the route, the pilgrims signing their release forms. The weather forecast was bad, predicting rain all afternoon. Around a hundred people showed up to the steps in front of the cathedral doors, less than I expected.
I said some words, can’t remember what I said but I remember meeting Father Patricio’s eyes and thinking he looked proud of me. Father Jesus gave us his blessing, and escorted by the city police, we began our way through the streets of downtown Austin, following Jesus with the capitol behind us.
“I’m stuck in traffic, not at the next station yet, the cross is in my car, what do I do?” “Hey, there is a reporter here who wants to talk to you” “The Sound team is not there yet” And there I stood in the midst of chaos trying to improvise.
I will never forget that moment
We arrive at Austin City Hall, iconic part of our city, and there I see the speaker setup with a smiling sound team next to it; and a cross. Huge and expecting. I will never forget that moment, it truly was something special. We accomplished something very unique. So many people witnessed a group of pilgrims truly convinced of the importance of their actions. A very special environment was shared among the group.
“I can’t believe we are doing this” “Look at how many people are joining us, there are so many of us now” “So apparently it’s not going to rain! But the clouds are kind of blocking the sun for us”
And suddenly it hit me: we were truly people on pilgrimage, we were not walking this path alone, everything was happening so much better than I could possibly imagine. At three pm we had a rest stop. Father Patricio led us in prayer. What felt like two hundred people, all kneeling in silence, surrounding Christ and His cross. We continued our way in that same spirit, nurturing that silence amidst the chaos of our everyday lives.
We got to the Austin/Travis County line. The officers from the former were leading us, the officers from the latter waiting to escort us the rest of the way. People are tired, the sun is beating down upon us harder, our pace is down.
And we start the last mile
We get to the first station since our rest stop. A lady can’t walk any further. “We need you to come get two ladies at the gas station. No, not that one, the one in front of the bank” – “Hey there is someone from a local news station who wants to ask you some questions” “The sprinklers are on at the next station, what do we do?” And the group continues under the sun.
We get to the next rest stop. We had thought of handing out cold wet towels. Rest Stop team had forgotten. They arrived with them just as we were sitting down. People’s faces reflect how that simple detail made such a difference. We got back the few minutes lost, we are back on schedule.
The stations get more and more intense. People sing songs, pray rosaries, go to confession with Father Patricio. The police escorts our way, the traffic stops and Christ continues His way of the cross, followed closely by Mary and what felt like two hundred pilgrims.
“The Shrine is ready” “The choir is doing a sound check” “I know it sounds like a joke, but there is another reporter here who wants to interview you” And we start the last mile.
We stop under the bridge, the same place where we take a picture waving our flags every year. I look to Josh Parker, the route leader; we have walked this pilgrimage together since it was a much smaller group. I ask him “Can you believe this is happening?” We are almost there.
“What happened to the guy playing Jesus? Is he ok? Where did he go?” “Is the crucifixion scene at the Shrine ready? Get Mark on the cross already, we’ll be there in 20” “Who has the fake blood?” “I don’t understand where you want this station to happen. Do you want the sound there? Which pathway?”
We get to the sign that reads “Addie Roy Rd.”. Through shouts and laughter we get the crowd together. I let the photographer know that we are ready. I settle in and she takes the picture with the largest pilgrimage group we have ever had. I think of the first guys who dreamed of this pilgrimage many years ago.
The silence of Good Friday
We go up the hill, we meet Judas. His delivery is heartbreaking. Smiles quickly fade and the group breathes an air of solemn silence. We make our way slowly to 225 Addie Roy Rd, our home. We can see Christ on the cross, ready for the last stations with the Shrine in the background. We stop some distance from the cross. Mary Magdalene offers her monologue and with her, we slowly approach the scene.
We don’t get to set up the sound system on time. The actors have to project. Some of their words are lost. No one seems to care because what we have shared through the last six hours and nine miles says it all. Jesus dies on the cross.
People find their seats in total silence. An announcement is made that the Good Friday Liturgy will begin in fifteen minutes. With only the wind whistling through the many rows of chairs, people look out to the amazing view of the Shrine and the hills, and reflects on everything we have been through. The liturgy begins in that same silence.
Just as the sun is setting, we start the veneration of the cross. We sing a song that we wrote for this moment. The sun sets and we live the rest of the liturgy in a dark silence.
Once we were done, the pilgrims visit the Shrine which feels empty, mournful. We hand out a Unity Cross card with a small metal cross, a way to remember this moment. I could not believe how many people were at our Shrine.
We walked to the movement house for some warm soup from a lady in the Movement. She made just enough for the last pilgrim who stayed for dinner.
And so ended our first Good Friday at our new Shrine in Austin, an experience with meaning beyond my understanding.