Christians moved by Stations of the Cross reenactment
NASHUA - Halting traffic in their wake, hundreds of Christians walked the downtown streets on Good Friday, turning heads as they solemnly commemorated Jesus Christ's death on the cross.
Children watched, motorists waited and residents opened their doors to witness the awe-inspiring reenactment of the Via Crucis, Christ's walk to Calvary and his crucifixion.
Taking the Easter message to the streets, parishioners of St. Aloysius of Gonzaga Parish were not afraid to display their faith, publicly remembering the sacrifices made by Jesus so many lifetimes ago.
"Today we are here to remember the suffering and death of Jesus Christ," Rev. Marcos Gonzalez-Torres told a large crowd gathered at the church, saying now is the time to reflect on Christ's ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
Ernesto Romero, 29, of Nashua, said it was his privilege to portray Jesus Christ in Friday's reenactment. "I feel so proud of this moment," he said prior to the Good Friday service. "Since I was little, I would watch the reenactments in Mexico. It is an honor to be a part of this and help represent Jesus' crucifixion."
Following a brief service inside of the church, the congregation flooded West Hollis Street and beyond for the annual procession, a popular Hispanic tradition of taking the Stations of the Cross to the streets at noontime.
Carrying a large wooden cross and wearing a crown of thorns, Romero slowly walked to the Stations of the Cross, followed by a large crowd of participants.
"There is so much emotion connected to this experience. I think this procession brings so much more to light during the Easter season," said Anna Townsend of Nashua. "It helps me to visualize the story of Jesus' death and what he went through in his final hours."
Dozens of people took time off from work to march in the procession, including twin sisters Mariana and Ana Espinal of Nashua, both 21. "We come here every year. It is an important tradition for us," said Mariana Espinal.
The siblings, who were born in Columbia and moved to the United States 13 years ago, said Good Friday was a vastly different experience growing up in another country. "In Columbia, Easter is more about God and his sacrifices, not about the Easter Bunny as it seems to be here," said Mariana Espinal.
Her sister agreed, saying Good Friday is the ideal opportunity to reflect on Christ's suffering and eventually his resurrection. The procession brings her peace during a time of uncertainty, Ana Espinal 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.
"The reenactment is so powerful," said MaryBeth Miller, who joined her friend, Carol McIntyre, to attend the event. Both women agreed there was no other place they would rather be on Good Friday than church.
Rev. Gonzalez-Torres reminded the congregation that his church has a reason for being housed in Nashua's Tree Streets neighborhood. Prior to taking the position at St. Aloysius, the priest said he researched the area and was frightened about the drugs, prostitution and crime that was reportedly prevalent in the Tree Streets.
"My fellow Christians, we cannot deny the reality of our neighborhood," he said. " . but we can extend hope."
Jesus came to the human world to transform it and make it new, according to Gonzalez-Torres, who stressed the procession is to remind others, complete strangers, that Christians are also called to make a difference in the world, not to walk away, ignore or destroy it.
"Jesus Christ is still working today in our neighborhood. Jesus Christ is still working today on the streets by transforming lives, touching lives," he said.
While much of the sermon was delivered in Spanish, even those people not familiar with the language were still touched by its message, according to those in attendance.
"Everybody needs something bigger than themselves to believe in, or else they are constantly searching to fill that hole. This is what it is all about. This is what fills that emptiness," Townsend said of Friday's procession.