Taking it to the streets

Bring your children, friends and show them the gospel of Jesus Christ is ever knew and relevant to our times

Taking it to the streets.

It’s much more than a line from a catchy song. It’s how a few hundred Toronto-area Christians choose to engage in Good Friday each year: by making their faith public through a “Walk for Justice” through downtown Toronto.

The walk draws inspiration from the New Testament accounts depicting Jesus of Nazareth as a political criminal. Good Friday walkers focus on sites that remind them of people who are dominated or cruelly neglected by today’s mainstream society. Walkers listen to short speeches; watch drama and dance presentations; sing, pray and reflect in a modern “Stations of the Cross” ritual that speaks to our world today.

Over the years walkers have stopped at government and corporate offices, warm-air grates where homeless people sleep, prisons, and political party headquarters. The Walk is organized each year by a diverse ecumenical planning team.

The Good Friday Justice Walk got its start in the early 1979,inspired by Catholic Teachers for Social Justice. It was aa period of intense protests focused on the Toronto manufacturer Litton Industries, builder of the guidance systems for U.S. cruise missiles. In 1982, hundreds of people from dozens of Toronto churches of many denominations participated in a Good Friday walk and prayer rally at the Litton site in Rexdale. A tradition was begun.

By 1985 the annual ecumenical Good Friday Walk for Justice had moved to the streets of downtown Toronto, broadening the focus to include a wide variety of issues of social justice and peace as it sought to provide a public witness against the forces of death in contemporary society that crucify people still.

As is apparent, the Good Friday Walk takes place because many Christians believe that this integral event for Christians belongs in the public domain, not hidden out of sight in churches. The Good Friday Walk’s mission statement notes:

The power that Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate thought they had over Jesus

Turned out to be illusory.

The Passion story unveils another kind of power at work in the world, and in the Word.

When Jesus said, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth,”

He was not talking about domination and control

but about solidarity and liberation.

At enormous cost

Jesus confronted the life-denying forces of his day and entered death,

showing us that our lives too can confront and overcome the forces of death in our day.

Each year the Walk focuses on a particular theme, or issue. Various walks have focused on violence against women, reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, homelessness, war (in Iraq and elsewhere), and health care, among other themes.
And each year, beginning and ending at one or other of the downtown churches, hundreds of people have walked and sung together, pausing for dramatic stations of the Cross at public spaces such as Nathan Phillips Square, a bank tower on Bay Street, a hospital, the courthouse, aboriginal community centres, and other symbolic locations reflecting each year’s theme. For four years the Provincial Legislature and its surroundings became the via dolorosa, before returning to the downtown in the late 1990’s. The Walk always ends with warm fellowship time over soup and bread.

Reflecting the belief that the world can be refashioned more in lines with the Gospel vision, each year small grants are given to local social justice organizations, using funds received through a collection taken at the Walk, which also covers expenses.

The Walk’s goals continue to include a commitment to:

♣ bring the Good Friday story to life, lifting it up in the public arena of our time and place;

♣ bring energy for the work of justice as we seek transformation locally and globally in a world which is scarred by violence, oppression and alienation;

♣ nurture a commitment to work for peace so that there can be ground for hope in the midst of brokenness and conflict;

♣ continue a journey that advances beyond Good Friday, providing an experience of shared engagement along diverse paths of involvement, witness and action;

♣ offer the opportunity to look into the eyes of suffering and death, in a world that spends much time in the denial of these realities, so that we may be clear about the forces we are confronting.

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    sacolargo Says:

    I remember Stuart Cole, a United Church minister, whom I met shortly after returning to Canada. The Good Friday walk was not his only day out in the streets with the poor, he was an un-orthodox minister even for the UCC. I remember Nancy Pocock, a Quaker who worked with refugees, at the Little Trinity church which was the last “station” of the walk. Nancy would be serving a hot soup for everyone. The Schmidt’s were a collective in the group – brothers all coming from the same source of inspiration and involved in different spheres of activity. Fr. Joe was often there, as well as members of Our Lady’s Missionaries – perhaps the only group of “religious” who actually lived their vow of poverty. Among them would be Sister Susan Moran, founder of the Out of the Cold Program. Sometimes a bishop could be spotted but never a Catholic bishop – they were all in the temple peddling their wares. At times the singing was off key – the acoustics in the downtown streets was not the greatest but the feeling was there. “Were you there when they crucified the Lord” was a common hymn on the walk – was that Johnny Cash or Bob Cardy leading the singing with Susie Whealen leading the vocals. People would be chatting, bystanders would wonder what strange group was this carrying a cross adorned with empty tin cans, it was a street scene not a correographed liturgical dance. I miss this gathering on Good Fridays.

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