St. Anthony of Padua parishioners bring Jesus' Passion to Bailey's Crossroads

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Travelers on Leesburg Pike witnessed a stunning display of Jesus’ Passion when Jesus crossed the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Glen Carlyn Drive on his way to St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church March 30. The face and robes of the actor depicting Jesus were covered in blood as he was pursued by a legion of Roman soldiers who whipped and taunted him. 

The dramatic scene was part of the Vía Crucis en Vivo, which means “living way of the cross” in Spanish. For the past 30 years, parishioners of St. Anthony Church have organized the event that involves dozens of actors bringing the 14 Stations of the Cross to life along a half-mile stretch of road. The event draws thousands of onlookers.

"It was an indescribable experience. I felt a cleansing of my soul." Rossnat Rodriguez

“Some people come as a curiosity, but by watching this, some people have become believers and it makes their faith stronger,” said Luz Marina Rojas-Carhuas, a parishioner of St. Anthony Church.

She became involved in the St. Anthony parish community after a powerful encounter with Jesus during a retreat brought her back to the faith. She was asked to play Mary Magdalene last year and she played one of the weeping women in the crowd this year. 

“One of the things that I have such a passion about is the Passion of Christ,” said Rojas-Carhuas. “Knowing that He loves me so much and He has welcomed me back again. That is why I actually cry during the Passion.”

People experiencing Vía Crucis for the first time might be a little squeamish to witness such a realistic re-enactment of the Passion. According to Marina, they try hard to make the stations as believable as possible. 

As brutal as it might seem at times, it is really nothing compared to what Jesus actually experienced, she said. 

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge walked along the route with Father Matthew H. Zuberbueler, pastor; Father Alan Ventura and Father Jeb S. Donelan, parochial vicars; Father Jose E. Hoyos, director of the diocesan Spanish Apostolate; and Father Anthony Appiah, pastor’s representative to the Ghanaian community. 

“It’s a powerful witness,” said Bishop Burbidge.

 

“It was a blessing (to have the Bishop here),” said Sandra Blanco, Vía Crucis coordinator. “This was an important opportunity for him to get to know the Hispanic community more. Everybody was excited.”

The annual production requires months of preparation and is powered by the enthusiasm of more than 80 volunteers who help with everything from crowd control and music, to making costumes or acting out their roles during the stations. The actors usually are parishioners who are very involved in other church activities. Some have played the same role for the past four or five years, while others had new roles this year. Rossnat Rodriguez played Jesus’ mother, Mary, and described it as a great honor.

“It was an indescribable experience,” said Rodriguez. “I felt a cleansing of my soul.” 

Volunteers attend several meetings throughout the year and rehearse for hours on the five Sundays leading up to the event.

“What is important to me is that we all come together as a church,” said Blanco. She explained how volunteers donate their own money to the cause every year to produce the event, which included buying new whips and helmets for the Roman soldiers this year. 

The Vía Crucis ended with Jesus being crucified on Calvary and his body carried by pallbearers on a dais through the St. Anthony courtyard where an ornate sawdust carpet had been assembled. The church was full of people who watched as Jesus was carried to his “tomb” behind the church’s tabernacle. Guests were then invited to a veneration of the cross prayer service to conclude this moving Good Friday tradition.

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018