Dozens of people were waiting in the pews in Sacred Heart, St. Dominic Parish, Portland. They were dressed, but not in the clothes that were usually their best Sundays. They wore historical costumes from past centuries – sandals and bandanas, colorful tunics or the red and gold costumes of Roman soldiers.
It was Good Friday, the day the Catholic Church commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, and more than 100 adults and children gathered for a live reenactment of Stations of the Cross. About half were dressed to act as an actor, while others walked behind them and prayed together.
The Way of the Cross is a 14-stage Catholic devotion marking the last hours of Jesus' life. Live re-enactments are a tradition in many parts of the world, especially in South and Central America. Six years ago, when the re-enactment first took place in Sacred Heart / Saint Dominic, it was offered only in Spanish. But the community comes from more than a dozen countries and many parishioners speak French as their mother tongue. The presentation has been extended to French, Spanish and English.
Sister Patricia Pora, longtime head of the office of the Hispanic ministry for the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland, said that tradition plays an important role in the local immigrant community. She says she is continuing a practice from her home countries and helping them to save the faith through hard times in their lives. As many are concerned about changes in immigration policy, Pora said that this year is particularly poignant for some families.
"Jesus suffered the same way many of them suffer," Pora said. "So there's an identity."
Mario Martinez, 49, played the role of a man who provides a grave for Jesus. He participates in the reenactment every year because it helps him to understand the sacrifice of Jesus.
"We feel that in our hearts," Martinez said. "Our faith is growing."
Nono Mukwayanzo, 28, read the French translations during the reenactment.
"What do we as Christians do to remember what happened years ago?" He said. "We can read the scripture, but we'll know it."
The annual event brings together a diverse community, he said.
"It means we are a fellowship in Christ," Mukwayanzo said. "There are no barriers with Christ."
The re-enactment began in the church, where the actors showed that Jesus was sentenced to death. The actors spoke Spanish and the readers turned between the three languages. Parishioners followed printed translations and sang hymns in Spanish between stations.
Aldo Arbaiza, the man who depicted Jesus, carried his wooden cross out of the front door of the church, and the congregation followed him. At various stations, he encountered people along the road, including his mother and a stranger who helped him carry his heavy burden.
He led the insidious crowd into the meetinghouse, where the guards hoisted him to the cross. He died with a sigh, and the audience was silent, even the children writhing in their costumes. The congregation will reunite on Sunday to celebrate Jesus' resurrection at Easter, but the last stop is the funeral. So a group of men lifted Arbaiza off the cross and carried him into a large grave of building paper and palm fronds.
"O Lord Jesus, where have you gone, God of the promise?" Said the reader. "Where are we, we who have given you so little thought and support Now is the hour of darkness, the moment of silence and absence Lord, keep the flame of faith in us as we watch and wait for the light of your dawn . "
A pastor gave a last blessing. The congregation dispersed to mingle, take photos in their costumes and sip hot chocolate.
A little boy in a green-and-brown tunic ventured to the tomb where Jesus disappeared. The makeshift stone did not completely cover the entrance, and there was a small gap at the edge.
He peered into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of what was inside.
Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791