Reflection on the Fifth Station
By The Rev. Deacon Paula Ott
Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I was often in the company of Jewish adults whose forearms bore the tattooed identification numbers they received upon their arrivals at German concentration camps. They were treated worse than cattle in a herd in an attempt to remove them from the face of humanity. I heard stories of loved ones and lives lost, of torturous injuries incurred at the hands of doctors and guards who served in the camps. I heard of the many suicides of Jews who chose to take their own lives rather than endure another day’s existence in a concentration camp.
Years before I became a teenager, I knew the story of the S.S. St. Louis, the German ocean liner which sailed from Germany to North America with over 900 Jewish refugees on board trying to escape Nazi persecution. Turned away by Cuba, Canada, and the United States, the ship returned to Europe where many of those 900 were captured by Nazis and sent to their deaths.
I read, with a heavy heart, the plight of refugees who seek sanctuary and safety from the dangers and death imposed by drug cartels, militia groups, the ongoing chaos in the Middle East, and even refugees’ own governments. I see our country once again turning its back on those whose very lives hang in the very delicate balance between the humane and inhumane behaviors of others.
The trauma suffered by modern-day refugees will leave indelible marks on their lives just like the tattoos on the forearms of those whose experienced the terror of concentration camps. Of this I am certain. What of the children who have been torn from their parents’ embrace, only to linger under the confinement of our government? What of the refugee who sold all he or she had to escape war, rape, and starvation only to live for decades in refugee camps where food, clean water, peace, and solitude are scarce commodities?
The Fifth Station of the Cross depicts the event when Simon of Cyrene was pulled from the crowd to help carry Jesus’ cross. I cannot help but wonder what that event implies for us.
As Christians, we are called to a higher standard than the banners of nationalism and prejudice, of turning our backs on those whose languages and customs are different from ours. Rather, we are called to be glorious standard bearers of Christ, who bids us to love our neighbors even as we love ourselves. We are called to take up and carry Jesus’ cross, to raise it high in the face of all that is unjust, of all that denies love and is unacceptable to the loving spirit of our Savior. How shall the world know we are Christians if we do not show Christ’s love for our neighbors both near and far?
The daughter of a Syrian immigrant and a first-generation German American, Paula was raised in a Jewish household in the Reformed tradition. She was baptized into the Christian faith in 1979, becoming an Episcopalian in 1982. In response to God’s call to her, she was ordained as a vocational deacon in the Diocese of Lexington in June of 2010. Paula currently serves as deacon at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, Kentucky and St. Peter’s Church in Paris, Kentucky.