I once had the opportunity to participate in Good Friday religious services in a small town in Mexico that lasted all day from the early morning until late at night. It was at the same time exhilarating and exhausting. This was during the time shortly after I arrived in Mexico when lived with two Catholic priests in the Parish of San Juan Bautista, in the Village of García (near Monterrey), in the state of Nuevo León. I took notes at the time and some photos and I thought it would be nice to share them with you.
About 7:45 on Friday morning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) I met up with Padre Humberto (oom-BEHR-toh) and Padre Joel (ho-EHL) and we put the cross in the back of the parish pickup truck and another man named José Luis, whom they called “Huicho” (WEE-choh), hooked up loud speakers to the roof of the cab. Padre Humberto and I jumped into the back of the truck (actually we helped each other up) and we were off. Padre Joel was driving, Huicho was riding “shotgun”, and Padre Humberto and I were hanging on for dear life. We somehow arrived at the Capilla de Guadalupe in the outskirts of town where my friends the Franciscan nuns from Columbia teach religion. Hermanas Lilliana, Margarita, and Luz Elena were waiting for us and there was already quite a crowd gathered and everyone was carrying a cross of some kind. Most of the crosses were small, crudely made things that could be held in one hand but some of them were fairly large wooden crosses and get this....they were carried by young women!
It didn't take long to get organized and the men put chairs in the back of the truck for the ladies of the choir who would lead the singing with a microphone and speakers and then Padre Humberto blessed the crosses and we began our march. Padre Humberto and Padre Joel led the procession, each carrying a large wooden cross, and then came the men dressed as the Twelve Apostles right behind. Then came the sound truck with the choir ladies and then came hundreds of parishioners all singing as they walked. I sang too for the first mile or so because Hermana Liliana had given me a “cheat sheet” with the words on it. However, after we were marching for about an hour I realized that this was going to be a long haul for me and I was very thankful that I wasn't carrying a cross. My camera felt like it weighed about fifty pounds by the time we finished. Along the way of the cross, which covered the entire town and environs of García, they enacted the stations of the cross – live! When it came to the part where Jesus is fastened to the cross and then dies and is taken down it was VERY realistic.
Needless to say by the time we finally got to the end and had put Jesus in His tomb my fanny was dragging. It was the second of April and already very hot in this desert-like region and it was also extremely dusty. It was all that I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I was pretty happy to crawl up into the back of the pickup truck again for the ride home and so was Padre Humberto. He was totally exhausted and his face was red as a beet. When we got back to the parish house I had to lay down for awhile and take a little nap. Even so, my legs felt like they were made of wood. After a short rest I got ready to go next door to the church for the reciting of the “Seven Phrases of Jesus” and the commemoration of His death at 3:pm. After that there was another short break prior to the evening services which began at 7:pm.
The church service that night was magnificent. The altar was hidden from view by a giant purple floor to ceiling curtain that was at least twenty feet high by twenty feet wide. In front of the curtain was a crucifix that was veiled in purple and at the foot of the cross were very life-like full size statues of the Blessed Virgin dressed in black (in real clothing) and St. John. During the service they uncovered the crucifix and there was a full size life-like figure of Jesus hanging on the cross with real hair, a real crown of thorns, movable limbs, and a real cloth covering His midsection. Then they got a ladder and took Him down from the cross, leaving a white sheet draped over the arms of the cross. They laid Jesus on a long table in front of the cross and partly covered him with a white cloth. There were big candles standing all around Him and the rest of the church interior was very dim.
The men dressed as the Twelve Apostles moved to stand around the body of Jesus and I realized that they were emulating a real wake. One by one people would come up and talk to Jesus and kiss Him and everyone was very solemn. It was the most touching ceremony that I have ever seen. Later in the evening there was a devotion to Mary and afterward everyone went up one by one and filed past Jesus for the last time and gave Mary a kiss. I did too and I kissed her hand and I SWEAR that it felt like real flesh even though I knew that it was a statue. That really shook me up but everyone else was so cool and calm that I soon felt cool and calm too and at peace with myself. I don't know what happened to me that night. I still don't know...but I will never forget it. Regardless of what did or didn't happen, however, I am not afraid to say that I am a true believer.
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