By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Each Good Friday for the past 17 years, the typically bustling streets of inner-city Trenton’s South Ward section and some of its residential side roads, become, at least for a couple of hours in the morning, quiet, holy places of prayer.
To see more photos from the Via Crucis in Trenton, click here.
At the direction of local police officials, traffic comes to a halt, and residents and business owners respectfully and seem to willingly, take a few moments from their routines to witness the dramatic, yet very sacred reenactment of the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) on the day Christians throughout the world commemorate the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.
A collaborative effort sponsored by Catholic Charities’ El Centro and area parishes including Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, Divine Mercy and Our Lady of the Angels, in cooperation with city officials, the Via Lucis features confident, faith-filled actors using convincing props, who passionately recount the 14 Stations of the Cross which depict the poignant moments of Jesus’ journey to Calvary.
The two-mile, bilingual procession began with the First Station, “Jesus is Condemned to Death” in front of Sacred Heart Church. Then, as a guitar player and choir led the gathering in song, the throng traveled to St. Stanislaus Church, a worship site of Divine Mercy Parish, stopping at various points along the procession route for the presentation of eight Stations. At each stop, there were reflections offered by clergy such as Deacon Benito Torres and Father Caesar Rubiano, both from Our Lady of the Angels Parish, and Roberto Hernandez, El Centro’s director. En route, the only sounds and dialogue that could really be heard were the cracks of the flagrum, whips with several strands, used to beat Jesus and the violent commands of the soldiers. Once on the grounds of St. Stanislaus Church, the Stations depicting Jesus being nailed to the Cross, dying on the Cross, being taken down from the Cross and placed in the tomb were reverently reenacted.
“It’s a calling from God to try and walk in his footsteps,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, a member of Sacred Heart Parish, who this year portrayed Jesus. He noted that he has participated in the procession for more than 10 years and has had various roles such as an apostle or a thief. In having the privilege to portray Jesus, Rodriguez said he felt that he has a “job to inspire as many people” as he could by walking as Jesus did and “be like him as an educator” and spreading a message of love.
“It is an honor and privilege to play the part and I know I have a responsibility,” Rodriguez said. With each year, he offers up his Via Crucis participation as a prayerful intention for “someone special” in his life.
This year, Rodriguez prayed for his deceased wife, who died from cancer in December, and another friend who is currently battling the disease.
“This procession is an act of love to our Lord,” he said. “I understand that I must put my body through some pain but it is minimal compared to what Jesus went through. Holy Week for me is a time to reflect on how I can be a better Christian and spread love to all people.”
Roberto Hernandez, director of El Centro, smiled as he reflected on how the Via Crucis was started 17 years ago, then noted that in a way, the idea was his wife’s.
Hernandez recalled telling his wife of encountering a pregnant woman had come to El Centro for assistance and was in such despair that she was considering an abortion. With the help of El Centro workers and counselors, the woman, however, chose to keep her baby. That encounter, Hernandez said, made such an impression that he wanted to find ways to reach other women who might be in similar circumstances. In speaking with his wife, she suggested that Good Friday might be a way to inform the community about the various services that El Centro provides while commemorating the Passion and Death of Jesus. After some brainstorming and planning, the idea of the Via Crucis evolved.
“We want to let people know that the Catholic Church is not abandoning them and that the Diocese is here for them,” he said, then briefly cited some of El Centro’s many services – ESL clases, support groups for men and women, those with addictions to alcohol or substance abuse, anger management issues.
In welcoming the gathering to this “holy day,” Father Dennis Apoldite, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, spoke of what they were about to experience and how “we will walk the same steps as Jesus.”
Though they will only be watching a reenactment of Jesus carrying the Cross, Father Apoldite urged the faithful to remember that “Each of us have our own cross.”
“Maybe we don’t carry the cross on our shoulders but we carry it in our hearts and in our souls,” he said. “We come today to ask God to lighten our burden, to grant our prayers, to be one with us as we walk the way of the Son for the salvation of all of us.”
Looking out at the hundreds in attendance at the Via Crucis, Father Apoldite remarked on how “very beautiful” it was to stand here and see so many people of different cultures and probably of different faiths who share the same love of God and the same suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
“Have the intention in your mind, the intention to maybe get along better with each other, to accept things in our lives,” he said. “As we watch Jesus carry his cross, maybe each of us can make our cross feel a little lighter by following in his footsteps.”