An Easter Reflection: Our Children's Way of the Cross and Resurrection
NPHI President Reinhart Koehler shares a moving perspective on Christ's Passion through the eyes of a child.
April 18, 2019 - International
On March 6, we began Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday, the call to reflect and return to the basics of our faith through prayer (justice to God), fasting (justice to self) and giving (justice to neighbor), with the hope that these practices will renew and strengthen our faith.
One of the ways the children at NPH prepare for Easter Week is to walk and pray the Stations of the Cross every Friday of Lent. In this reflection, I attempt to show the significance of each Station of the Cross to the lives of our Pequeños and Pequeñas and point out some similarities helping us to better understand their suffering when united to Christ’s suffering, culminating in the joyous moment of the Resurrection of Christ.
I. Jesus is condemned.
When children lose their family, they are unprotected and very vulnerable. They are easily accused of something they did not do, but do not know how to defend themselves without an adult speaking up on their behalf.
But Jesus was silent. (Matthew 26:63)
II. Jesus picks up His cross.
The cross our children carry comes in many forms. Sometimes it is obvious when a bright mind is limited by a body that will not follow that mind’s commands (cerebral palsy). Often, the cross is invisible but is nonetheless a heavy burden, such as profound sadness, inability to trust, feeling attacked without reason. Yet, it is through our cross that we attain salvation; this cross becomes our hope.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-5)
III. Jesus falls.
As they carry their cross, which is different for each child as it is different for each one of us, we can observe how the burden of the cross becomes too heavy to bear and the children will stumble, fall into old patterns of defensive and sometimes self-destructive behavior.
“But it is not to become discouraged over one’s faults, for children fall often, but they are too little to hurt themselves much … and they’ll be falling into God’s arms!” (St. Therese)
IV. Jesus meets His Mother.
This moment tells us how Jesus and Mary share in Jesus’ agony. Sometimes we can see how challenging a separation can be for children from their families and also for their family members. This is one of the reasons why the NPH OneFamily program is so important, as it allows children to be reintegrated with their relatives with NPH support, when that is possible and in the best interest of the child. Our children also experience this shared agony when their mother dies slowly of a terminal illness. While the experience is painful, it also offers comfort because the children come to understand that their mother eventually will be relieved from a painful disease and the mother finds peace in knowing that her children will be cared for. Mary never abandoned her son, and she will never abandon us.
Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a mother to us now!
V. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.
At NPH, there are many Simons in our children’s lives. Their consistent support and encouragement help them carry the weight of their cross. Yet, more importantly, Simon stands for reaching out to those who suffer, are neglected, in need of service. Our children learn early on that as Pequeños and Pequeñas they are called to lend a helping hand to their Pequeño brothers and sisters and also to those they encounter outside of the NPH Family.
VI. Veronica helps Jesus.
Moved by compassion Veronica wipes the blood and sweat off of Jesus’ face with her handkerchief. I am amazed over and over again how many people, moved by compassion, support our children. The important lesson here is that the compassion we feel moves us to action or, as Fr. Wasson liked to explain, to assume responsibility by responding.
As St. Elizabeth of the Trinity says, “We will be glorified in the measure in which we will have been conformed to the image of His divine Son.” Let His merciful image be imprinted upon all our souls.
VII. Jesus falls beneath His cross, the second time.
It is impossible to understand the pain and exhaustion Jesus must have felt. Likewise, it is difficult for us to know the true burden of the cross that each of our children carry. But we do see them stumbling and falling and yet must trust that they will stand up again and move on.
VIII. Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem.
Jesus not only consoles the women of Jerusalem in spite of His own suffering, he also worries about them. Very often I have observed in our children this amazing ability to care for others in spite of their own heavy cross. The bond they develop among each other and the way the care for each other is a strong healing force that helps them accept and carry their cross.
IX. Jesus falls beneath His cross a third time.
Over the years I found it impossible to predict who of our children would stumble more than others. Some arrive at NPH and they are happy from the get-go. But others stumble often over the many obstacles that life puts in their way, whether it is because of bad memories that impact their behavior, the consequences of malnutrition on their physical development, or one of the many temptations they encounter along the way that distract them from the path to success. But like Jesus, no matter how weak they may be at the moment of the fall, the majority will get back up and continue their walk forward, strengthened by the love that surrounds them.
X. Jesus is stripped of His garments.
To be completely naked, stripped of everything, is the ultimate vulnerability. There are many ways our children have experienced this, either through having everything taken from them including their most loved ones, or through disregard of their human dignity by ridicule or abuse. We must always remember how easy it is for our children to feel this way and we must pay careful attention to help them rebuild their inner strength.
Reminding them that becoming one with Jesus is our sanctity, our happiness on earth. “He wants our life in order to give us His.” (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)
XI. Jesus is nailed to the cross.
How can we even begin to imagine the pain Jesus must have felt when nailed to the cross? Can we even begin to imagine the pain our children feel when poverty leaves them hungry, when a disease ravages a loved one, and yet all they can do is stand by helplessly as they have no access to medical care? Yet, just as Jesus redeems us through His crucifixion, our children offer us the opportunity of redemption by serving them because by serving them we serve God.
XII. Jesus dies on the cross.
We might think that dying by the cross is something of the past. However, every year over three million children die by the cross of malnutrition. And the long-term consequences of malnutrition are devastating, such as inadequate brain development and the impairment that malnutrition has on the ability to learn. This is even harder to accept when you know how little it takes to prevent protein deficiency. In Honduras, NPH runs a nutrition program for under-resourced children. In combination with encouraging mothers to breastfeed, we supply a protein supplement after the time children are six months until they turn three. The total cost per child for that period of two and a half years is only US$250.00.
The Blessed Virgin is there at the foot of the cross to teach us to suffer as He did: through, with, and in Forgiving Love.
XIII. Jesus is taken down from the cross.
Death is no stranger to our children. Often, by the time they arrive at the NPH Family, they have suffered the loss of loved ones. They seem to have a special connection to Jesus’ understanding that His death also is a call for us to embrace life fully. Most children seem to have this innate desire to be happy, and while they would give anything to bring their loved ones back, especially their mother and father, they seem to have the ability to move forward and, given the opportunity, to develop into the kind persons that God intended them to be.
XIV. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
The death of someone in our NPH Family is a regular occurrence because we are such a large family. During the funerals I have observed that the pain of the loss of a loved one is greatest at the graveside as the finality of death becomes clear when we add earth to earth and ashes to ashes, slowly covering the casket with the knowledge that this person has passed on to another place where we cannot see them. Through His death, Jesus calls us to follow Him, to be His apostle, as now He can only work through us. Father Wasson often reminded us that we must strive to become instruments of God and educate our children to do the same.
So many children of our world today suffer crosses that are painful and bring death. God calls us to serve those children to alleviate their suffering and help them grow into caring adults with a desire to serve others. Their path is often very much like the Stations of the Cross, but with faith and the redeeming power of love defined as Agape (Corinthians 1:13), which is deeply knowing others and doing your best to help them become their best, the children’s Stations of the Cross also can result in resurrection.
I remember especially little Juan, who came to NPH when he was just a year old, malnourished and suffering from a chronic illness and the worst diaper rash I had ever seen in my life. Juan should have screamed at the top of his lungs because of the pain he must have felt, yet he did not say even a peep for he had learned that no matter what he did, no one would show up to help him.
During his first year with NPH, he was in and out of the hospital. At one point the doctors were sure Juan would pass away and Fr. Reinhold Galindo performed an emergency baptism in the hospital. Yet, five years later Juan is here, an outgoing, happy-go-lucky, mischievous little boy, always smiling and ready to dish out hugs—a complete resurrection from the limp and lifeless little baby he was when he arrived at NPH.
Please remember that through your continued support you contribute directly to these kinds of resurrections.
On behalf of everyone at NPH, I wish you a happy Easter.
Children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy. Special thanks to Fr. Michael Daly for his contribution to this reflection.
President, NPH International