By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published March 29, 2012
Throughout Lent and leading up to Holy Week, Catholics are encouraged to meditate on the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus through many means, whether by fasting, sacrifice or special prayers such as the Stations of the Cross. For Sacred Heart Basilica parishioner Justo Roman Zepeda, Holy Week has taken on special meaning.
For the sixth consecutive year, Zepeda, 46, will portray Jesus during the annual “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) on Good Friday at Sacred Heart. The detailed reenactment of the Passion of Christ helps many people appreciate the extent of Christ’s suffering for their salvation.
“I feel the ‘Via Crucis’ is an important event for Catholics because it reminds us of what Jesus did for us to be free,” Zepeda said.
Pilgrims brought the “Way of the Cross” from the Holy Land where they meditated in the historical places over the suffering of Jesus while he made his way from the Garden of Gethsemane to Calvary. Returning home, they placed crosses, statues and pictures to remind them of the holy places they had visited.
Franciscan missionaries brought the Stations of the Cross into churches as a means of meditation and teaching the faith.
Zepeda said that portraying Jesus helps him prepare for Easter. Instead of reading about the steps of Christ’s journey to Calvary, he lives them in a unique way. He prays in preparation for the role.
“Before my performance, I pray and meditate to keep myself calm and concentrated,” he said.
Zepeda was approached initially by Father Patrick Scully and asked to play Jesus. He gladly accepted the role. He had already portrayed Jesus in the “Via Crucis” at Our Lady of LaSalette Church in Canton.
The “Via Crucis” is a presentation of the Sacred Heart Hispanic community. It is a live, bilingual presentation of the Stations of the Cross with stage effects, historical costumes and dramatic backdrops by Atlanta artists Cathy Ehrler and Kathy Rennell Forbes.
Originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Zepeda came to the United States with his wife, Martha, in 1999. Along with their two children, Martha and Christopher, they have been parishioners at Sacred Heart for 12 years.
The “Via Crucis” event has become a family affair. Martha, 13, remembers being a bit confused when she saw the Passion dramatization for the first time because she thought it was real. Now she works behind the scenes and enjoys helping her father prepare.
“It was a lot more fun the second time because I got to help,” she said.
The realistic nature of the “Via Crucis” is sometimes challenging for Zepeda. The most difficult part comes “at the end, when the soldiers are crucifying” Jesus and “when they are nailing Jesus to the cross and bringing him down after he dies.”
While the “Via Crucis” can, at times, be a graphic depiction of the Passion, many learn from the experience.
“He is helping out the Church,” said Christopher Zepeda, 10. “He helps people understand about the crucifixion.”
The “Via Crucis” will take place on Good Friday, April 6, at 3 p.m. at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 353 Peachtree St., NE, Atlanta. The event is free and open to the public. It will be preceded by a “Tre Ore” (Three Hour) Good Friday service from noon to 3 p.m. For more information, call (404) 581-9837 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.