Resurrection Cantata

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While many couples were out on Valentine's Day dates Sunday night, a large group gathered at St. Ann Church in Arlington for a special musical performance. Under the dimmed lights of the sanctuary, the St. Patrick's Family Players performed the musical cantata "Resurrection," by Bryan Jeffery Leech.

The performance depicts Jesus' death and resurrection from the perspective of St. Peter, who is awaiting his own execution. As he is preparing for martyrdom, he recounts to the audience the anguish he felt after denying his Master. After the Resurrection, St. Peter struggled with forgiveness when he realized he would have to face Jesus again.

The St. Patrick's Family Players are based out of St. Patrick Church in Watertown, Mass., and have been performing the cantata for the past 20 years. What started out as a way to celebrate the church's 150th anniversary has turned into an annual Lenten tradition that unites St. Patrick parishioners with members of other area Christian churches. Together this interdenominational group has taken the Resurrection message to communities all over the country and overseas to Rome and Ireland.

"One of the reasons this has had such longevity is that it's never been about one person except Jesus," said group founder Judy Johanson. "Everyone's heart is in the right place."

For many members the group is a family that has helped people connect with their faith. Jorge Chavier and his family have been with the players since they moved from Puerto Rico to Watertown 19 years ago.

"Literally this group adopted us, and I have seen the same thing happen with other people," said Chavier. The whole family works together on the performance, with Chavier behind the scenes on fliers and publicity. His sons, now grown, direct and play lead roles. During Sunday's performance, Chavier's wife had the opportunity to sing the part of the denying girl in the musical.

The St. Valentine's Day performance was the group's first production of the year as well as its first time performing in Virginia. Another performance was scheduled for Tuesday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle.

The invitation to perform at St. Ann came about after some cast members visited the church for the baptism of their grandchild. After the baptism they were admiring the sanctuary and mentioned to Deacon Bill Donovan that the space would work well for the Resurrection cantata. After seeing the performance firsthand, St. Ann parishioner John Greco was thankful the baptism afforded him this special Lenten reflection.

"I liked the fact that we got to share this at the beginning of Lent when some people like me are still trying to wrap our heads around it. This is a very dynamic way to do it."

The performance ended Sunday night as Peter was about to go to his cross. Before leaving the stage, he held a candle and wondered who would spread the light of Christ after his death. One by one, his candle was used to light those of his fellow performers and then those of the entire audience.

The play's message of Christ's unconditional love and forgiveness spoke volumes to the St. Ann audience. Missionhurst Father Ramel O. Portula, pastor of St. Ann, was very moved by the performance.

"The message is so powerful. Everyone has to carry the light," said Father Portula. "A very powerful reflection during the beginning of Lent."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016