By Curt Yeomans
Jonesboro resident Jesus Santos has played a Roman soldier and a priest in past performances of the Stations of the Cross at Saint Philip Benizi Catholic Church, but this year, he got his first chance to take on a larger role: Jesus of Nazareth.
Churches across the Southern Crescent observed the death of Jesus on what is known as "Good Friday." One way the day was observed at churches like Saint Philip Benizi was through the 14 Stations of the Cross. The stations trace Jesus' final steps, from when he was condemned to death, to his crucifixion, to the laying of his body in a tomb.
Saint Philip Benizi observed the Stations with a noon prayer service in English, and again later in the day, with a re-enactment of Jesus' death in Spanish.
"I've never felt like I did today," Santos said Friday. "I felt something very strange. This means a lot to many people. You see a lot of people crying and a lot of people praying as you do this [re-enactment]."
For Christians, the past week, known as "Holy Week," has been a build-up to Easter Sunday. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, and continues through Holy, or Maundy, Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.
While Palm Sunday and Good Friday are the days when the death of Jesus is commemorated, the other days are set aside to remember other parts of the end of Jesus' life. Holy or Maundy Thursday recognizes the Last Supper, while Holy Saturday is when the laying of Jesus' body in his tomb is remembered, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' web site.
The Easter Vigil (the night portion of Holy Saturday) and Easter Sunday is when Christian celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the tomb.
Good Friday "is the beginning of life," Riverdale resident Elizabeth A. Tarkang said. "I prefer Easter to Christmas because [Easter is] the beginning of everything [in Christianity]. This is when [Jesus] died for our sins."
Saint Philip Benizi Pastor Gregory Hartmayer said the Stations of the Cross resonates with many Christians since Jesus' death and resurrection is a key part of their faith. Hartmayer said Jesus' death is when Christ's story comes "full circle" because "it's the fulfillment of Jesus' obedience to God, from the crib, to the cross."
"No matter how many times you hear the story, it rips you to hear about the extent of Jesus' suffering," Hartmayer said. "It's a painful day."
The Stations of the Cross are:
· Station 1: "Jesus is condemned to death."
· Station 2: "Jesus accepts his cross."
· Station 3: "Jesus falls the first time."
· Station 4: "Jesus meets his sorrowful mother."
· Station 5: "Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross."
· Station 6: "Veronica wipes the face of Jesus."
· Station 7: "Jesus falls the second time."
· Station 8: "Jesus speaks to the women."
· Station 9: "Jesus falls the third time."
· Station 10: "Jesus is stripped of his garments."
· Station 11: "Jesus is nailed to the cross."
· Station 12: "Jesus dies on the cross."
· Station 13: "Jesus is taken down from the cross."
· Station 14: "Jesus is placed in the tomb."
A fifteenth Station, "The resurrection of Jesus," is not traditionally observed with the other stations, but "[s]ome forms of the Stations of the Cross include a 15th station to recall the resurrection as an integral part of the paschal mystery," according to the Catholic Online web site.
"The Stations of Cross reminds us of the way Jesus died, and how he was willing to give himself to save us," Marie Dorval of Hampton said after the Spanish-language service at Saint Philip Benizi. "It shows us he is both the God and the man. When he died, he passed from a man, to Heaven."
Saint Philip Benizi parishioner Solmaira Flores, who played Pontius Pilate's wife, Claudia, in the Stations, said playing a role in recreating the final steps in Jesus' life was "exciting because you get to be a part of it." She said it was also an educational experience.
"I learned to be a better Christian because I got see what he did for us," Flores said.