Dozens of people waited in the pews at Sacred Heart/Saint Dominic Parish in Portland. They were dressed up, but not in the clothes that are usually their Sunday best. They wore period costumes from centuries ago – sandals and head scarves, colorful tunics or the red-and-gold garb 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 re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross. Roughly half were dressed to participate as actors, while others walked behind them and joined in prayer.

The Stations of the Cross is a 14-step Catholic devotion that marks the final 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 was first presented at Sacred Heart/Saint Dominic, it was offered only in Spanish. But the congregation comes from more than a dozen countries, and many parishioners speak French as their first language. So the presentation has expanded to include French, Spanish and English.

Sister Patricia Pora, longtime director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said the tradition has become an important one in the local immigrant community. It carries forward a practice from their home countries, she said, and it helps them keep faith through hard times in their lives. As many worry about changes in federal immigration policies, Pora said this year is particularly poignant for some families.

“Jesus suffered in the same way that many of them are suffering,” Pora said. “So there’s an identity there.”

Mario Martinez, 49, played the role of a man who provides a tomb for Jesus. He participates in the re-enactment every year because it helps him understand the sacrifice Jesus made.

“We feel that in our hearts,” Martinez said. “Our faith grows.”

Nono Mukwayanzo, 28, read the French translations during the re-enactment.

“As a Christian, what do we do to remember what happened years and years ago?” he said. “We can read the Scriptures, but doing this, you get to experience it.”

The annual event brings a diverse community closer together, he said.

“It means that we are one community in Christ,” Mukwayanzo said. “With Christ, there are no barriers.”

The re-enactment began in the church, where the actors showed Jesus being condemned to death. The actors spoke in Spanish, and the readers rotated between the three languages. Parishioners followed along on printed translations, singing hymns in Spanish between stations.

Aldo Arbaiza, the man portraying Jesus, carried his wooden cross out the front door of the church, and the congregation trailed behind him. At different stations, he met people along the road, including his mother and a stranger who helps him carry his heavy burden.

He led the trailing crowd into the parish hall, where the guards hoisted him onto the cross. He died with a sigh, and the audience was silent, even the children squirming in their costumes. The congregation will gather again Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, but the final station is the burial. So a group of men lifted Arbaiza from the cross and carried him into a large tomb made out of construction paper and palm fronds.

“O Lord Jesus, where have you gone, God of the promise?” the reader said. “Where do we stand, we who gave you so little thought and support? Now is the hour of darkness, the moment of silence and absence. Lord, keep alive the flame of faith in us, while we stand watch and await the light of your dawn.”

A parish priest gave a final blessing. The congregation dispersed to mingle, take photographs in their costumes and sip hot chocolate.

A little boy in a green and brown tunic ventured over to the tomb where Jesus had disappeared. The makeshift rock didn’t quite cover the entrance, and a small gap remained at the edge.

He peered into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of what was inside.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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