Living stations place actors, audience at Passion scene Print E-mail
By Maria Wiering   
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
When his parish’s youth minister asked him to portray Jesus in an upcoming Living Stations of the Cross, Dave Lorenzo wanted to say no.

“It’s not something you try out for or aspire to do, I suppose. It’s kind of a daunting part,” he said.

Instead, he said yes.

Playing Mary, Kate Horst reflects on Jesus’ death. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit
Simon, played by Bill Royce, takes the cross from Jesus. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Lorenzo, 48, grew a beard, donned a crown of thorns, and imagined what it was like to be Jesus on the day he was crucified.

A member of St. Ambrose of Wood­bury, Lorenzo is one of 36 parishioners participating in the Living Stations of the Cross, a dramatized version of the events surrounding Jesus’ Passion based on the 14 Stations of the Cross.

By Easter, the group will have performed five times. This is St. Ambrose parishioners’ first year doing the drama, and several cast members hope it’s not the last. The rehearsals and performances have deepened the Lenten experience and sense of parish community, cast members say.

‘Feeling’ the events

The Living Stations of the Cross are among the kinds of Passion Plays that have been around for several centuries. In Oberammergau, Germany, for example, a Passion play has been performed every 10 years since 1634.

When people see the Living Stations of the Cross, they also “feel” the events, said Gary Ritter, assistant director at the youth-acted Living Stations at St. Paul in Ham Lake.

“There’s something about young people, when they act this out” he said, “that tugs at your heart — to feel the crowd against Jesus, to feel the sorrow of Mary toward her son, to feel the reluctance of Simon as he’s forced to take the cross, to feel the compassion of Veronica, and finally to feel the pain that Jesus really went through with each push, with each spit, with each nail that’s driven.”

And, when it’s over, to feel Jesus’ love through his sacrifice, he added.

“For me, this is my Lenten retreat,” he said.

Demonstrating Jesus’ love

Youth at St. Paul parish have acted in the Living Stations of the Cross for 15 years. This year, Chris Caron, 17, plays Jesus.

He views his role as an honor and a ministry, he said. He also describes the role as “a big jump start” in his prayer life.

Now, prayer is like a “workout,” he said. He gives his prayer more time than before he took the role.

The goal of his performance is to touch the audience members’ hearts, he said.

“We all have different hearts — open or closed, young and old, big and small, broken or healed — all kinds,” he said.

“I want everyone to feel the passion I have for Jesus, so they can feel it themselves,” he added.

At St. Paul, 125 youth from grades seven to 12 have parts in the production. During the first year, the actors used tin foil for the soldiers’ armor plates. Today, they have authentic costumes and professional lighting. They performed three times during Lent.

Before each practice, the cast spends a half hour in prayer before they act. “For [the youth] to portray this, we want them to also feel that love that Jesus has for them in a special way,” Ritter said.

At St. Ambrose, Lorenzo has tried to approach his role as Jesus humbly, he said. It comes with a feeling of unworthiness,  he explained.

However, he has enjoyed the role. “Being that it was a Lenten reflection piece almost, it really helped to bring Lent into focus,” he said. “I really took the part to heart.”

During the productions, as he imagined himself as Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate and heard the crowd cry “Barrabas! Barrabas!”, Lorenzo felt very alone, he said.

“I really prayed about it, and I really tried to understand what he was doing,” he said. “This has been a process that will change me. I see that Christ, in his human form, was in fact human, where he truly felt abandoned by his friends and family.”

Want to go?

» St. Ambrose of Woodbury Stations of the Cross: 1 p.m. March 28 (Palm Sunday) and 12 p.m April 2 (Good Friday) at St. Ambrose, 4125 Woodbury Dr. For more information call (651) 768-3030.

» Servants of the Cross Living Stations of the Cross: 7 p.m. March 25 at the St. Mary’s Chapel at the University of St. Thomas, 2260 Summit Ave., St. Paul; Noon April 2 (Good Friday) at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Maplewood, 1725 Kennard St.; 3 p.m. April 2 (Good Friday) at St. Mary of the Lake, White Bear Lake, 4690 Bald Eagle Ave.; 7 p.m. April 2 (Good Friday) at Transfiguration, Oakdale, 6133 15th St. N. For more information, call (651) 303-9209.
Promoting deep reflection

Actors with other roles also describe a deepened prayer life and Lenten reflection.

Kate Horst, 35, plays Mary in St. Ambrose’s production.

“It really opened my eyes to the pain that she would have had to feel during the entire week — watching the betrayal to Caiaphas to Pilate and the whole lead-up to the actual crucifixion.”

Playing Mary is “pretty emotional,” Horst said. “Everyone has a vision in their head of who Mary was and how she would have reacted to what was going on during that last week of Jesus’ life, and I didn’t want to portray her in a way that someone felt offended.”

Gary Maki, 44, is Pontius Pilate in the same production. He only has four lines, but the role has prompted Maki to reflect on what Pilate would have been thinking at the time, he said.

“Even though it was ultimately the people who decided, [Pilate] was the one who allowed it to happen,” he said. “The experience, the confusion, the angst, knowing that something was different about this guy [Jesus] than anybody else — he had made this decision before, but this time it was different, and he didn’t fully understand why.”

Tony Casey, 17, plays a Roman centurion, and the experience has helped him to think of Jesus’ Passion as “real” — an actual event involving real people.

“The whole Passion, the whole process, just becomes more alive,” he said.

Krista Vierling, 16, agrees. She plays Caiaphas’ maid servant, and being part of the play inspires her desire to attend Mass and better understand the Scriptures and liturgy, she said.

Personal connections

Like St. Ambrose and St. Paul, some parishes around the archdiocese perform their own Passion play. Others invite outside groups to present a play at their parish.

The family-based ministry organization Servants of the Cross has been performing the Living Stations of the Cross for 11 years. This year, they’ll offer four productions. The actors range in age from seven to 23.

Patti Knecht, a parishioner at St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi, wrote the script used by the Servants of the Cross’ Living Stations after hearing a contemporary angle on the Stations several years ago. She has co-directed the Living Stations since.

Knecht, 48, is confident the process has been guided by the Holy Spirit, she said.

She recalls a former pastor sobbing the first time he saw the performance, and many people since have been moved to tears, she said.

“There’s nothing that we’ve suffered that he didn’t suffer,” she said.