April 14, 2017

Latino Catholic community holds annual Way of the Cross reenactment

By Sharon Roulier

Photo by Ethan Dupont

Photo by Ethan Dupont

SPRINGFIELD – Under a beautiful blue sky this Good Friday, the Latino Catholic community gathered at Blessed Sacrament Church in Springfield’s North End for the parish’s annual live reenactment of the Way of the Cross.

Each year people line the streets around the church at 40 Waverly St. as parishioners wear costumes and carry props in a strikingly realistic recreation of Jesus’ last hours.

The event began at noon with a prayer service inside the church and then people gathered in front of Blessed Sacrament for Station One, when Jesus, played this year by parishioner Bibiano Rosario, is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. He is beaten by Roman soldiers and forced to wear a crown of thorns.

The participants then walked with Jesus, Mary, the apostles and soldiers down Waverly Street to Jefferson Avenue to Dwight Street and then back to the church for the final station, the crucifixion.

“We started this in Springfield in 1962 during Holy Week,” said Deacon Genaro Medina, of Blessed Sacrament Parish. “And every year people look forward to this event.”

“In 1963 I was Pontius Pilate,” said Deacon Medina, noting that over the years this tradition has grown substantially.

Photo by Ethan Dupont

Photo by Ethan Dupont

Blessed Sacrament parishioner Nilda Resto, coordinator, said preparations for this decades long tradition begin several months before, with weekly practices and the designing of props and costumes.

Hundreds of people followed as Jesus carries a heavy wooden cross through the North End. A lector read the story of the Passion from a van equipped with a loud speaker. When the Roman soldiers whip him and he eventually dies on the cross, Resto said it is “just like he’s real.”

Parishioner Eva Morales, Resto’s sister, has served as the narrator of the event or more than 10 years. A life-long member of the parish, Morales said she recalled watching the production as a child,  and it made a profound impact on her.

Before serving as narrator, Morales said she played other roles.

“I started out washing Pontius Pilates’ hands and many years later, I played the role of Veronica, wiping Jesus’ face,” she said, but now each year she sits in a vehicle that drives in the procession, a microphone in one hand and a walkie talkie in the other. Choir members ride along with her, praying and singing at every station.

“As I read into the microphone, my sister chimes in via walkie talkie and lets me know what my next steps are,” said Morales. “Either a prayer or a song, or maybe even both. She’ll say to me ‘We have to sing until we get to the next corner’ or perhaps, ‘You need to slow down, you’re reading too fast!’”

Morales said on this Good Friday, the day was filled with prayer from the moment people gathered to dress in costume, until everyone changed back into their “regular” clothes.

Photo by Ethan Dupont

Photo by Ethan Dupont

“I have been to every rehearsal and even know the script by heart. But as I stand in front of a dying Jesus, things change. I am no longer a narrator. We are no longer in rehearsal mode. This is the real deal,” said Morales. “Jesus is dying on this cross for me. And every time, I start tearing up. My hands shake and I wonder if this will be the year I break out in tears. Somehow I always seem to keep it together.”

“He has been through a lot and now he died for us,” said Rosario. “Everybody is so emotional and we have people that they cry.”

“They reenact every Station of the Cross including Jesus’s first, second and third falls, the encounter with his mother and Simon Cyrene helping to carry the cross,” said Andres Lopez, director of Latino Ministry for the Diocese of Springfield.

“This is a means for evangelization. All the parish groups, including the religious education students, participate in this activity,” said Lopez. “Every year we have about 200 people in the community and some who join in off the sidewalk to take part in this holy event.”

“When people leave this event, they have more faith, more understanding of the suffering of Jesus for us,” said Deacon Medina.

The event concluded outside the church with adoration and a Communion service at 3:30 p.m.