In Hispanic America, Good Friday commemorations of Jesus Christ’s passion and death leave little to the imagination.
From El Salvador, a country named after the savior, to heavily Latino Roman Catholic parishes throughout the United States, Jesus’ death is often dramatically recreated in a fashion making the suffering as real as possible or allowable.
“There’s the sense of being there with the one who suffers,” says the Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, a native of Peru and vicar for Hispanic Catholics in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. “That’s what Jesus did for us.
“Hispanic countries are full of traditions, and Holy Week is a central part of our faith experience.”
In Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Mexican American parishioners have been reenacting the crucifixion of Christ since 1977. In Milwaukee last year’s south side Via Crucis procession cost an estimated $5,000 for permits and police escort alone.
In San Antonio, after the Holy Thursday service, parishioners at the city’s historic San Fernando Cathedral spill out into the courtyard for a reenactment of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and then his arrest.
“The last image is a difficult image,” admits the Rev. David Garcia of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. “Jesus is manhandled. Jesus is tied up. Jesus is dragged off.”
“So you go home with this very deep sense of sorrow and reflection and suffering that is now going to be a very much a part of Good Friday.”
Good Friday: Jesus crucifixion reenacted
In Houston, thousands annually attend reenactments of Jesus on the Way of the Cross while listening to what they known as Las Siete Ultimas Palabras de Jesus, the Last Seven Words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The drama includes walking alongside the white-cloaked, thorn-crowned parishioner portraying Christ carrying his cross, while others comfort his crying mother, Mary in a Good Friday commemoration that becomes a taxing physical as well as spiritual experience.
“In Spanish, the word pesame basically is sympathy,” says the Rev. Garcia. “So pesame is going to the person who has lost someone through death and giving them your sympathy.”
“In this case it’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, the sorrowful mother. We accompany Mary in her moment of greatest sorrow, in her moment of greatest need, in her moment of greatest suffering.”
Among the parishes with a century-old tradition of showcasing the passion of Christ is Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston, whose pastor, Rev. Ed Kilianski, says:
“To re-enact that is to help them visualize because they can relate to his own suffering. The vast majority of the people in the parish are still considerably poor.”
“Because of the poverty, they can relate more to the suffering of Jesus on the cross. It’s not the same as being comfortably middle-class.”
In some parishes, the passion of Christ is also given a contemporary theme, calling upon a comparison to the suffering among undocumented immigrants in America.
“This is a very sad time for many immigrants,” says local Latino leader Jorge Islas Martinez in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
“As they follow the procession, they are thinking of Christ’s burden but also of the burden our immigrants, many of whom face deportation and have been separated from their families.”