On Good Friday, April 14, 2017, pilgrims from Winnipeg and beyond gather at Broadway Disciples United Church to walk the Stations of the Cross on Broadway, one of Winnipeg’s oldest and most historic thoroughfares.
Before observing the first station at the church, and setting out against the day’s damp cold, guests are invited to warm themselves with music, snacks and hot coffee.
For weeks leading up to this day, organizers from five denominations—Mennonite, Lutheran, Anglican, United and Roman Catholic—have worked together with students, local indigenous leaders and others under the umbrella of Hunger Free Manitoba, to create a route that will help penitents confront the suffering Christ endured to redeem the poverty of every human soul, the poverty that persists in this province, and to repent of their part in it.
The walk boasts some peculiar iconography. Instead of intricate paintings of well-known gospel scenes, each station has penitents contemplate the equally familiar faces of public buildings, the grandeur of some contrasting against the commonness of others.
Like many historic neighbourhoods across Canada, West Broadway is home to a number of the city’s highest-profile institutions and its most classic hallmarks of lack. The farther up the route pilgrims walk, the denser the mix becomes. Station 7 is a rooming house; Station 8, a stop-gap variety grocery store typical in commu-nities where the nearest supermarket is too far away for many to access.
Some of this walk’s icons are portable. Two indigenous drums lead the group in prayer and perseverance. Carried along in pieces, a replica human form evokes mixed responses. For some, it almost recalls the lame man of Capernaum carried by his friends to Jesus for healing (Mark 2:1-12); for others, it demonstrates all too viscerally the “hunger litany” chanted at each stop: “I was hungry and you gave me no food / Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you no food? / Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me / $3.96 a day is not enough to live on. The least of these are still hungry.”
The ninth and final station is hosted at Crossways, in Young United Church. There, an altar is made ready. Laden with bread and lit with a candle of hope, it frames a petition addressed to Winnipeg’s mayor, requiring that the food allowance included in basic income assistance be raised to a liveable amount. At some point, amidst name-signing and hymn singing that is our remembrance of the crucifixion, the effigy is also laid to rest. The gathered depart, to wait and hope and pray for an Easter Sunday reality, soon.
Maelle, left, and Esme Kulik enjoy bannock provided by Kairos Manitoba. (Photo by Beth Downey Sawatzky)
Stops 2 and 3 include the provincial legislature, and the law courts (pictured), where presenters highlight the systemically entrenched obstacles with which Manitoba’s poor must do daily battle to survive. (Photo by Beth Downey Sawatzky)
Stop 4 is a bus shelter, made remarkable by the presence of a man who calls it home in the winter. Introduced as ‘Brian Smith, poet without a home,’ he leads the group in a reflection by reading some of his own writing. His title is well deserved. (Photo by Beth Downey Sawatzky)
Character homes from a bygone century abound. Behind, far up the street, the turrets of the Fort Garry Hotel are just visible, a statement all their own on the reason for this pedestrian protest. (Photo by Beth Downey Sawatzky)
On the steps of Klinic, a local non-profit devoted to mental health support, pilgrims hold up the effigy. (Photo by Beth Downey Sawatzky)