The manifestation of the Christian faith is joined to practices of popular devotion that go beyond the ecclesiastical sphere to fill the streets of cities or the roads of the countryside, with all kinds of processions, pilgrimages or pilgrims. In the Hispanic world, it is enough to remember the importance of the Holy Week processions. In the Christian Middle Ages, the pilgrimages to Rome, Jerusalem or Santiago. For those of us who have walked the Camino, we have always had, in spite of everything, the spiritual character of that long pilgrimage. What we call the Extreme Way of the Cross is a popular Polish initiative that wants to unite the practice of the Stations of the Cross in Lent with the asceticism, sport and adventure of the anchorites of the desert. I will briefly explain what this new "religious event" consists of.
A different Way of the Cross
The idea is to consider the Stations of the Cross outside of a church or ecclesiastical environment to be done in the countryside, walking at night along a previously prepared path. The walk should be about 40 kilometers long, in silence and in a solitary manner, although in a group or team of about ten people. For this form of Lenten piety to have the name of Extreme Way of the Cross, the propagators of this devotion demand five conditions: 1) That at least 20 kilometers are walked, 44 km are recommended. 2) That each participant walks for at least eight hours. 3) That the walk should not be through urbanized areas. 4) It should be done at night. In addition to these conditions, it is good to explain the concrete way to proceed.
Whoever organizes the Extreme Stations of the Cross must carry out the following steps: 1) Invite a group of friends or acquaintances, it is advisable not to be too many, for example, no more than ten. 2) Prepare the route to be followed and the 14 Stations of the Cross where all the participants will gather to meditate on the text of the Stations of the Cross. 3) Give each of the participants a link with all the indicated places so that they can reach each station with their cell phones. 4) Prepare the texts of the Stations of the Cross that will be read together at each station, and then each participant will meditate on them in silence.
An adventure of faith
In Poland, the Extreme Stations of the Cross began to be held in 2010. Each year, the texts of the Extreme Stations of the Cross are prepared according to a central idea or motto. Until 2021 these have been the themes: "Overcome evil with good, The strong side of reality, Ideals and dedication, The mission, The measure of man and his greatest challenge, Christian leaders, The way of change, On the way to a beautiful life, The Church of the 21st century, The way of forgiveness: from the fall to salvation, The revolution of the whole person".
More than one hundred thousand people have already covered the Extreme Way of the Cross. I can attest that this devotion is spreading more and more because recently, when I was helping in a parish during Holy Week, I was invited to participate. I asked if it wasn't a bit dangerous and they told me yes, that everything has its risks because in the dark and in the countryside you don't know very well what vermin you are going to find. I was also told that there are safety measures. For example: each participant is equipped with a flashlight and a powerful spray that scares away all kinds of animals, has fluorescent signs on his clothes and is advised to always have in sight the participant in front of him a few hundred meters away. In addition, everyone is
The stations are connected to each other and all meet at each station of the Extreme Stations of the Cross, so the risk of accidents, loss or animal attacks is greatly reduced.
Renunciation, fortitude and prayer
The routes of the Extreme Way of the Cross are very varied. Eighteen groups of routes have been established, 16 of them within Poland and two of them outside Poland. One of the groups distributes routes through the rest of Europe, and another through America. There are European routes planned from several major cities, including Poland.
mo Amsterdam, Birmingham, Cardiff, Eindhoven, Munich, Oslo, Prague, or Tallinn.
A sample of the hardness of the challenge are the recommendations offered from the website: "Remember that the whole way is in silence. During the walk, meditate on 14 Stations of the Cross that can be downloaded from the website. Walk in small groups, less than 10 people. You can go with acquaintances or look for someone after the sending Mass. Inform someone in your family or friends that you are going to the Extreme Stations of the Cross. Because it is during the night, it is important to know that it is very difficult to return home if someone is tired and cannot follow the way. That's why it's important to have someone who can come with a car just in case."
It is necessary to carry a flashlight, the best solution is a headlamp. Most of the way is off-road, but just in case it is important to have something reflective. The important thing is to bring appropriate shoes (the best are "trekking" shoes with a thick sole) because the route can be muddy and slippery. Bring warm clothes with you (it can get cold during the night).
It is suggested to bring something to eat (sandwich, fruit, chocolate) and drink (at least 1 liter). It is necessary to have a recharged cell phone (best with a powerbank). At least one of the people in the group must carry the map, the downloaded GPS track (see the page with your route) and the application that shows the way. Think about how you are going to get back from your destination. Remember that each participant goes at his or her own risk. Contact the person in charge of the trail if you have any doubts or need more information".
The basic idea of the organizers is to pray in silence, alone, walking in the dark and meditating on the texts heard during the previous station. A way of the Cross in struggle against the temptation of discouragement and of not being able to, against the temptation of fleeing from the cross to live a comfortable life without problems. Undoubtedly this is a pious exercise that demands renunciation, fortitude, prayer and a good physical condition. More detailed information can be found in the Via Crucis Extreme website.