A walk to Calvary

Thailand April 30, 2014 00:00

By Phoowadon Duangmee
The Nation

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The Christian faithful in Chanthaburi province mark Good Friday with the Stations of the Cross

Chanthaburi province, in Thailand’s East and the Holy Land are more than 7,000 kilometres apart yet in the run-up to every Easter, the Roman Catholic faithful of both lands are joined in spiritual communion.
Past of the Christian Holy Week that culminates on Easter Sunday, the Catholic communities in the eastern province take a sorrowful walk on the Good Friday to mark the Stations of the Cross that depict Christ as he made his way to Calvary for his crucifixion.
The Stations of the Cross originated in Jerusalem with the Christian faithful making a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer through meditating upon the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death. Led in Rome by the Pope, the ritual is taken one step further in the Philippines where a selected penitent is actually nailed to a wooden cross. Here, in Thailand, which has only a small number of Christians, the Stations of the Cross ceremony is very rare.
“We re-enact the Crucifixion every year though usually only the faithful attend the ritual,” says Father Prasan Pongsiripat of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. 
“However, over the years, the Stations of the Cross have become better known and we are also drawing visitors wanting to remember the passion of Christ.”
While many non-Christians know that Jesus held the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and was crucified on Friday, their knowledge of the gospels probably ends there.
Last Good Friday – April 18 – however, the final hours of Jesus Christ were once again brought to life in detail as the faithful made their way along the two kilometres that separates Carmel Church from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
“Judas kisses Jesus to identify him to the Roman soldiers,” we are told through the loudspeakers at Carmel Church. 
From there on, the scenes follow the traditional 14 stations in the Bible. They include Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus falls the first time and Jesus meets his mother.
As the procession makes its way to the cathedral hundreds of Christians join the sorrowful journey, with devotees kneeling in front of every station to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus Christ who they believe sacrificed himself for their sins. 
The pilgrimage makes its way through the old Christian neighbourhood where people wait quietly for the arrival of Jesus Christ. The scene is touching, with a long line of candles glowing in the dark.
Chanthaburi Christian community is one of the country’s oldest and largest communities. Nestled along the Chanthaburi River and spread around Thailand’s most beautiful cathedral and largest Christian church, the Christian community has been here since the Ayuthaya period.
“Hundreds of Roman Catholic people immigrated from Vietnam 300 years ago and the community has now grown to 8,000 people,” says Father Prasan.
Here and there as the pilgrimage makes its way along the road, you see entire generations of families standing behind an altar to Jesus Christ or Virgin Mary.
The Stations of the Cross come to an end at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Mary standing under the cross during the crucifixion of Christ. 
Sorrowful and solemn, hundreds of Christians hold candles as their lips move in prayer.