NASHUA — Christians flooded downtown streets on Good Friday, solemnly commemorating Jesus Christ's death during the popular Hispanic tradition of taking the Stations of the Cross to the streets at noontime.
Traffic came to a standstill as hundreds of Catholics witnessed the reenactment of the Via Crucis, Christ's walk to Calvary and his crucifixion.
"He is still here with us. He walks with us. He knows us. He loves us," the Rev. Marcos Gonzalez-Torres told a full congregation at St. Aloysius of Gonzaga Parish.
Edwin Franco, who portrayed Jesus, led the procession around the neighborhood carrying a large wooden cross and wearing a crown of thorns for all to witness. While much of the sermon was delivered in Spanish, even those people not familiar with the language were touched by its message.
"I feel at peace today. I also feel some pain, as it is impossible to imagine how Jesus suffered," said Kenia Oliveira of Nashua, whose family is from Brazil. "This is one of the most important days of the year for our religion."
Gonzalez-Torres reminded those in attendance that Jesus Christ is walking the journey of life next to them, and that he is nearby to help and aid with their daily pain and suffering.
"We can find hope through eternal life," he said.
In the heart of Nashua's "tree street" community, Gonzalez-Torres acknowledged that the neighborhood does not have the best reputation. Still, he said the love of God is present, and mercy is welcomed.
"I am here to give the little bit that I can, in return for everything that Jesus has done for me. He gave his life for us," said Rick Desmarais of Nashua, a deacon in training.
The reenactment helps make Good Friday more real, said Desmarais, adding that it is a great remembrance that joins different cultures and languages. It also brings the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection to life, helping to remind others of the sacrifices Jesus made, he said.
His wife, Betty Desmarais, said she took off from work to attend the service.
"This is the holiest of seasons, and there is nowhere else I would rather be," she said.
Holy Thursday marked the beginning of the most sacred period in the church year known as the Triduum (Latin for "three days") when many Catholics celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper. The ritual is followed by Good Friday and reaches its highest point during the Easter Vigil on Sunday.
Many younger people participated in Friday's service, displaying their faith and publicly remembering the sacrifices made by Jesus so many lifetimes ago.
"I really want to be more closer to God. When I die, I want to go to heaven and become a saint," said Lilia Lerma of Nashua, 11. Lerma portrayed an angel during the reenactment.
Others, including Ernesto Romero of Nashua, said he chose to participate as one of the 12 disciples.
"I do this every year. It is part of my culture and my faith," said Romero. "I am trying to be an example for my family and my daughter."
Nicole Castro of Nashua said she skipped class on Friday to attend the church service.
"I will not miss this," said Castro, whose family is from Colombia.