Rocky Rico had an unsettling realization while rehearsing his school’s presentation of the Living Way of the Cross.
As one of the Roman soldiers in the dramatization of Christ’s passion and death, most of his time was being spent making sure that Jesus, portrayed by his classmate, Matthew Gonzales, kept marching forward to his execution.
“It’s weird because Matthew’s my friend and I have to use the whip, so I probably scare him a bit,” said Rocky, an eighth grader at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse. “But then you think that the Romans were probably 10 times worse to Jesus, and they weren’t his friends. They didn’t hold anything back when they whipped him.”
Another scene hit home with Rocky when he accidentally hit Matthew in the shin with a rubber mallet while practicing the crucifixion scene. Matthew – and the entire cast – winced.
“It makes you feel that you’re there, instead of it just being read to you,” said sixth grader Samantha Morales, summing up the reason she and Catholic school students across the world take part in fully costumed re-enactments of Christ’s passion and death.
Barbara Vilen, who oversees OLPH’s annual Living Way of the Cross as the school’s coordinator of religious education, was struck by the palpable melancholy emoted by this year’s Blessed Mother – Madison Lewis – and the earnestness of Andrew Lewis, who admitted that the role of Simon of Cyrene made him feel as though he were really helping Jesus.
“There are different levels of faith from each of the children brought out through this; you can see it in their faces, the way they take pride in what they do,” Vilen said. “They bring it all together and make it come alive for the children (in the younger grades).”
Instead of the traditional station that shows Jesus meeting his mother, Vilen had her students present the scene from Luke’s gospel in which Simeon prophesies to Mary that her son was the long awaited Savior. Simeon says: “Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul, too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare” (Luke 2: 34-35).
“When Jesus was presented in the temple, Simeon was there to let Mary know that Jesus was something special and that (his passion and death) would be taking place,” Vilen said. “I thought it was important that this should be part of our presentation. Our students study the prophecy, so they understand its significance.”
Study of Scripture also came into play when each student made a “Resurrection Egg” – a plastic egg containing his or her written reflection on a selected verse from St. Matthew’s account of the passion. Each egg was decorated with an image symbolizing the verse. This year’s artwork including a donkey, a crown, fish, a cup of wine, loaves of bread, thorns and Judas’ silver coins.
Other personal touches in the school’s Way of the Cross included the image of Jesus on Veronica’s cloth, drawn by sixth grader Madison Lewis, and the elaborate costumes made by OLPH parent Tansy LeBlanc, who sews for the project as her annual Lenten sacrifice.
“The costumes are really awesome,” said sixth grader Chloé Norris. “They transport you back to that time.”
Matthew Gonzales, cloaked in the white robe of the Risen Christ, called his opportunity to portray Jesus “an honor.”
“All my life I’ve been told stories about him and how great he was and how he brought miracles to the people,” Matthew said. “My favorite part is when Jesus says, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ – when he gives his life for our sins.”