Pastor Marlin Simon will never forget that Good Friday when he was stopped by a police officer as he walked with a small group along U.S. 1 with a wooden cross over his shoulder.

“I had a dozen or more people with me,” said Simon, who at 80 is set to make the walk for the 33rd time on Friday, April 19. “The cop pulled me over. He said ‘Hey, I want to see your driver’s license. I said, ‘I need a driver’s license?’ What they told me later was the cop relayed back and said there was a strange and suspicious character carrying a cross down here and ‘we’re not sure about what’s going on.’”

Simon is a Keys resident of 59 years and pastor of 32 years at Spirit and Truth Ministries on Plantation Key. In 1965, Simon said, he witnessed Arthur Blessit walking with a cross in the Keys. Blessit is a Christian preacher who has walked all over the U.S. as well as Central America and South America. Simon said Blessit’s the one who jump-started people to walk with the cross.

Simon recounted his first journey with the cross from just south of Big Pine Key with a friend.

“We walked to 7-Mile Bridge, and we went around 30 miles or something like that,” Simon said. “That was on a Good Friday, and that would have been 33 years ago. Every year after that, I’ve walked with it.”

Simon said he’s walked with the cross alone, and with as many as 35 people. The cross, which he made, weighs 57 pounds. At the bottom of it is a wheel to make the carry a little less stressful on the body. There’s also a lighter cross he made that weighs 35 pounds for women to carry. During the trek, Simon gives fellow walkers the ability to carry the cross.

“It’s an incredible, spiritual time when you’re walking with a cross,” Simon said. “You feel something different with it. People generally are honking at you when they see it.”

Simon spent 25 years of his life carving tikis and totem poles. One day, while carving and reading the bible, the book of Isaiah jumped out at him.

“It talked about carving idols, and I knew I was carving fishermen’s gods and war gods and stuff like that,” he said. “I went, ‘God, if you don’t want me carving any more I’m willing to quit. But you’re going to have to provide for me.’”

“I went home that night and the phone rang,” Simon continued. “Someone asked if I would put a dock up for them, and I said ‘yes.’ I did a lot of carpentry on the side because carving all day — my one arm was 3 inches bigger. Ten minutes later, someone asked about building a deck. A half-hour later, I got a call about putting an addition on someone’s house. I said ‘I got it!’ He (the caller) said ‘I’m talking to you,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m talking to God!’ I went down the next day and closed my shop. I haven’t carved a thing; it’s been over 35 years.”

The Good Friday walk will begin at Venetian Shores at 9:30 a.m., reaching Matecumbe United Methodist Church around noon for a service. Simon said several churches throughout the area will take part. People in all churches are encouraged to participate.

“It’s not a church type of thing; it’s a God type of thing,” Simon said. “It brings people to the realization of the day and what Christ did. Hopefully it gets a lot of people thinking. I know we’ve made some incredible inroads in that.”

At 80, Simon is ready to make the walk again. How is he able to make the walk and carry the cross still? Simon said he stays active.

“I’m not a couch potato, at least I try not to be,” he said.

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