April 23, 2012

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Edmonton's inner city on Good Friday to commemorate Jesus' death and to pray for an end to injustice and inequality in Edmonton and around the world.

The 32nd annual Way of the Cross began and ended at Hope Mission, Edmonton's largest emergency shelter, and saw more than 1,000 people walk, sing and pray for a better world.

The April 6 procession, whose theme was inspired by the Occupy Movement, was organized to bring awareness to causes like homelessness, poverty and inequality.

"I thank you for bringing your faith out of the churches and into the public arena, where life happens and where faith has to be lived," said organizer Linda Winski.

"It's here where we give public witness to the fact that Jesus' life, death and resurrection have a profound impact on our individual lives, but also on the way we organize our societies in this world."

Bob McKeon, director of social justice for the Edmonton Archdiocese, said the walk is about remembering Jesus, who reached out to the poor of his time and challenged the injustices of his day, and remebering those who have suffered from inequality, are poor and often homeless in our midst and around the world.


"We will pray that by following Jesus' example we will be able to recommit ourselves so that love and justice will become a greater part of our lives and of our society."


On the walk, members of different communities carried a large wooden cross while musicians sang hymns and played instruments.

Several Franciscan friars took part in the procession, whose theme was "In the midst of inequality and injustice, what does God require?"

Speakers outlined injustices and inequalities at eight stops during the two-hour journey, including the Marian Centre, Mary Burlie Park, the Remand Centre, the proposed downtown arena site and the Immigration Hall.

Three students from Archbishop O'Leary High School carried the cross to the Marian Centre, where they had volunteered preparing meals and serving the needy.


"Our Marian Centre experience was very eye opening," said Grade 11 student Chelsea Glubish. "It brought the realization that there are many unfortunate people living right in our own backyard we so easily neglect everyday.

"If Jesus felt that helping (the poor) was important then we as his followers are called to make it a priority as well."

"God commands us to care for the poor because they are our brothers and sisters," said Grade 12 student Lindsey Purcell. "When we encounter someone less fortunate, we are called to see the face of God in that person."

Speaking about the rights of women at Mary Burlie Park, social worker Stephanie Burlie said women have a long way to go in their struggle for equality.

"Women do 66 per cent of the work and get only 10 per cent of the world's income," she said. "They produce 60 per cent of the world's food but make up 70 per cent of the poor. And they only own one per cent of the world's lands."


At the site for the proposed downtown arena, former senator Douglas Roche said the Good Friday walk must be foremost "a spiritual experience that we feel deeply in our hearts and communicate outwards to the society around us."

"When a person is hungry, when a person is homeless, when a person is uneducated, unemployed and oppressed we must reach out to them with love, help and hope," he said.

"But loving our neighbours as ourselves requires more than charity. It demands justice and we as followers of Christ must stand up and speak to the public policymakers in the name of the most vulnerable around us."

There is much to protest as we look around, pointed out Roche, saying it's not right for the government of Canada to be cutting development assistance to the poorest countries when it is funding "unneeded fighter aircraft."


"It's not right for the City of Edmonton to be more concerned about a hockey arena in this city centre when the community facilities trying to serve people (in need) in the city centre are so deprived of funds."


In his closing speech, walk organizer Jim Gurnett said the greater the gulf between the haves and the have-nots in a nation, the greater the instability and the insecurity for everyone.


Despite that, inequality seems to be growing, with the average household income for the richest postal code in Edmonton being four times higher than poorest postal code, he said.


"Our laws and public policies more and more reflect the agenda and values of the wealthy."

Our hope comes from God "who promises to support each of us as we make new decisions to do our part to end inequality and poverty," Gurnett said. "We are not alone, we are family showing there is another way."


Darco Pejovic, a car salesman who helped carry the cross, said he attended the walk for the first time because "Christ suffered for us and it's our job and our duty to suffer for each other and to help each other as he did for us."

Pejovic said poverty and suffering are "absolutely unnecessary" in a world filled with money and resources.

Donna Koziak, a university professor, has attended the Outdoor Way of the Cross many times since it started in 1981.

"It's a time for me to examine my conscience and a time to be also inspired," she said. "It's a day of reflection where I examine my conscience about what I've done over the year about the Gospel's call to serve the poor."

For Myrna Kostash, a Ukrainian Orthodox, the walk is "a wonderful opportunity to examine my conscience and to admire and be inspired and pray for the people who work everyday of their lives on these issues."