About 40 parishioners re-enacted the Stations of the Cross. Ismael Ortiz portrayed a Roman soldier this year, a soldier in the most powerful army in the world at that time, who just stood idly by and observed.
“The first nine stations we just try to keep the crowd out, but the Roman soldiers are actually the ones who nail him to the cross,” he said.
Isaiah Nichols, a 21-year-old theology student at Lee University, portrayed Jesus. He said it took a lot praying to humble himself for the role. He celebrated his birthday on Thursday and was baptized Saturday.
“If you’re playing the role of Jesus, it makes the dark in your life come to light because you’ve got to be in the most humble state to play the most humble role ever in history,” he said.
In 2012, Ortiz, 47, played the part of a Jewish soldier who whipped, taunted and mocked Jesus.
“It would take a lot of guts for somebody to do something like that, to hit him over and over and over. There were times in the procession that I had to make myself act out what I was doing because I really didn’t want to do it even knowing it was a play,” he said. “At some point, you just feel like; am I really doing this?”
So, it was not difficult for him to imagine that Jesus despaired 2,000 years ago in the moments leading to the Crucifixion, but the breadth of the pain he carried is still immeasurable.
“I can’t even imagine being in Jesus’ place,” Nichols said.
Ortiz said, “In real life, I am still doing this by my sins.”
And each time the actors assemble together for Mass, they continue to remember what they did on Good Friday.
“We try to remember that the less you sin, the less you beat him up,” Ortiz said. “He forgave us 2,000 years ago and he forgives us now. We’re human and we’re going to make mistakes, but some of the mistakes we keep making over and over.”
Nichols said he asked to play the part of Jesus this year, but after he got the role, he suddenly realized “you’re not just playing some mediocre role. You’re playing Jesus Christ. Even if it is just a re-enactment, you’ve got to do some humbling and some soul-searching.”
His parents, Bobby and Annie Nichols, were among the throng of people who watched the procession.
“It was heartbreaking what Jesus went through and to see Isaiah do it, I can hardly take it,” his mother said.
Joe and Nancy Marucco moved to Cleveland from Taylorville, Ill., in July 2012. Friday was Joe’s first time to see the re-enactment.
He said “it’s sad to see Jesus, the Son of God, stumbling and going through the agony, but it’s rewarding that he did do what he did to forgive everybody’s sins.”
Ortiz said Father Antonio Giraldo allowed the first re-enactment. The costumes were unavailable in the United States, so he ordered them from Columbia.
It began as a simple production, but a new element is added each year.
Smoke was added this year at the 12th Station when Jesus died.
“Every year we try to put a little more reality into it,” he said. “Especially when we nail him to the cross, that is one of the areas that really touches people. From the 10th to the 14th stations, that’s when it really draws everybody close together in the moment of sorrow.
“Even though we’re playing in the re-enactment — in real life, we’re still nailing him to the cross everyday and it make people reflect on what they need to do to change.”
He said the production is a visualization of what people really do spiritually.
“In Mexico where I came from, there is a difference in the celebration,” he explained. “There are areas in Mexico where they actually nail the person to the cross. In some areas, they still allow this.”
It takes almost the whole year for that person to prepare for the next celebration.
“There is a lot more reality to it, they even do the horses and have a lot more people involved in it,” he said. “They try to find a place similar to the actual event.”
While the Stations of the Cross began as a Hispanic event, it is now bilingual with more non-Hispanics taking part.
“We try to get everybody involved in it. It’s something the Hispanic community started, but we try to get everyone involved in it because we all have one lord and we should all be united and see it with the same eyes — Hispanic, Mexican, American — it doesn’t matter. We’re all the same. If we are baptized, we are all the same family,” he said.
Parishioners at Saint Therese are crossing cultural lines when they celebrate Easter.
Ortiz said there was no such thing as Easter eggs where he grew up in Mexico, but his children are hunting eggs today.