During Holy Week, I had the privilege once again of joining the 100 or so Fijian youth who carry a heavy cross 150 kilometers down the potholed, sizzling hot and (this year) flooded roads of Fiji to the Khriist Jyoti Ashram retreat center near Fiji’s international airport in Nadi. All the elements of previous years were present, the blisters, the laughter and the tears, but this year the floods which devastated the western division of the country not once but twice brought an added poignancy and grief to the experience.
Two places, one a Catholic parish and the other a Methodist village, that have traditionally received the walkers for the night, could not do so this year due to no electricity and piped water in addition to the devastation caused by trees and mud. In another parish, the walkers arrived to find the hall full of stranded flood evacuees, so the youth had to sleep on concrete verandas and in the church itself.
Hearing of their plight, there were frantic phone calls going on between the traditional chiefs of the province, all of them Methodist, trying to arrange alternative halls, schools or anywhere for the youth with their precious “cargo” to spend the night at almost no notice. In addition, local people and groups were asked to provide meals, water and a community to receive them. Miraculously, there is no other word, places were found, new friendships were forged, and the cross reached the Ashram on time for Good Friday.
For the other youth group walking with their own cross and scheduled to meet in the Ashram on the same day, it was even worse. They were stranded for four days in a village in which there were yet again no Catholics and plans kept changing as to where they would stay, food and whether they could even continue. But continue they did, at the end, not walking, but running the cross to the Ashram. The scientific mind might consider all this to have been foolish and even dangerously risky, but the walkers themselves saw it as a demonstration of God’s power that they reached their destination on time and brought the symbol of God’s suffering love to places and people so most acutely living it.
My own small contribution to the walk, apart from being there, were the requests for confessions constantly coming at me on the road, off the road, in the dark, in the light, as well as the small meditation I was able to share about the part of Jesus’ Passion where He was alone with Pilate, and it is not really clear if Jesus, despite appearances, is really the one on trial, or whether it is Pilate/ the Jews/Peter/you and me, who are the people who have to answer Pilate’s haunting question: “The truth, what is that?” (John 18:38) The young people on the cross walk have certainly shaken up my idea of the truth! Apparently, it is not as simple as listening to weather forecasts!