More than 150 parishioners of St. Cecilia’s Church — from the English-, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities — gathered as one for “The Way of the Cross” — or, the Living Stations of the Cross — last Friday morning, Good Friday, in West Hudson Park, commemorating the passion and death of Jesus Christ.
It was the penultimate Holy Week event leading to Easter Sunday.
Actors portrayed everyone from Christ to Mary Magdalene to the Roman soldiers who tortured Jesus and ultimately crucified him — and at times, the dramatization seemed as real as what likely happened to Jesus the day he died.
He was whipped. He was kicked. He was spat upon.
It couldn’t have been much more realistic, save for putting nails into his wrists and feet.
Why do this on Good Friday?
Jesus’ death is always marked on Good Friday, the most somber day in the Church’s liturgical year. On this day, churches are stripped bare — and as the Rev. Msgr. Michael Desmond would often say, the idea is for the church to be “cold, both literally and figuratively.” By dramatizing Jesus’ death, that cold, bareness was palpable.
Oscar Omar Fernandez is a long-time parishioner at St. Cecilia’s. He was one of the organizers of the event. He said this was the second time the parish has “performed” the Way of the Cross — he was absolutely thrilled to see the three communities of St. Cecilia’s come together for the special commemoration.
“It was just amazing to see the English, Spanish and Portuguese communities together,” Fernandez said of the tri-lingual service. “We are so happy to show people who may not be in the parish that it’s possible for people of all backgrounds to come together for something as special as this was.”
And because the three communities did so well together, it is Fernandez’s hope that people from other Catholic parishes in the area will want to participate next year.
“This isn’t just about Saints,” Fernandez said. “It’s about the death of Jesus Christ. We want people, say, at St. Stephen’s, and elsewhere, to see that this is a very powerful experience — and you don’t have to be a member of our parish to take part. We’d love to see people from other parishes attend or even act next time.”
The weather complied
What was supposed to be a mostly overcast Good Friday, with a 90% chance of rain, turned out to be rather dry, at least for the Way of the Cross. The procession, which began at the gazebo at West Hudson Park, ended with the crucifixion near the tennis courts and that lasted about two hours — went off completely without anyone getting wet.
Not two minutes after it concluded, rain began to fall, at times, heavily.
“Our backup plan was to do this in the gym at [the former] St. Cecilia’s School, but the weather cooperated,” Fernandez said. “I couldn’t have been happier.”
Several attendees spoke of how emotional the morning was.
Pedro Gomes, 43, was visiting from Elizabeth and attended the Way of the Cross with his aunt, a parishioner at Saints. He said he was overcome with emotion, especially at the end.
“To see how poorly Jesus was treated hit me hard,” Gomes said. “It was very difficult to watch the emotion on Jesus’ face. The man who portrayed him played the role so well and you could almost feel that he was feeling the pain Jesus did. It was amazing to witness.”
Laura McKay, also visiting, echoed Gomes’ sentiments.
“At times it was too difficult to watch, like it was in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ,’” McKay said. “But this is something I am glad I got to see in person. You can read about Jesus’ death many times from the scriptures, but to see it enacted — that’s something else, really.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.