By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 3, 2019 | En Español
ATLANTA—Parishes and communities plan for Holy Week observances as Lent passes its halfway mark. From a trek up Stone Mountain to a ramble through the streets of Atlanta and a Passion play in a Gainesville park, believers can immerse themselves in different styles of the Way of the Cross.
For years, Lorena Marceleno has portrayed key women in an annual Passion play, from Veronica wiping the face of Jesus to the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross mourning her son.
This year she’s taking on an unfamiliar, but central role, the devil.
“I will never forget when I was Mary because that was a phenomenal experience. A part of me that doesn’t come out has to come out (as the devil). It has been hard,” said Marceleno.
She will be among more than 100 volunteer actors in the Holy Week play, hosted by the Messengers of Christ ministry at St. John Paul II Mission.
Large crowds will watch Marceleno, 36, who works as an accountant, starting in the first scene on tempt Jesus during his final days on Earth. The production is staged at Laurel Park on Old Cleveland Highway in Gainesville on Good Friday.
Catholics have traditionally prayed the Stations of the Cross inside a church, stopping at 14 images depicting Jesus’ final moments. It dates to medieval times when pilgrims could not travel to Jerusalem. Now it is being done in living color, especially in the Hispanic Catholic community.
At St. John Paul II Mission, the Holy Week play is nearly all consuming for the ministry with rehearsals starting in January. It comes on the heels of the other big production in December surrounding the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“We finish that and go on vacation for two weeks and then we start right away on the Passion play,” Marceleno said.
This year, the organization successfully challenged its members and supporters to raise $10,000 for new equipment and other necessities. More than 100 people will participate in the roles of the Passion play.
Marceleno has participated since 2007 as a member of the Hispanic Youth Adult Ministry. She met her husband during a rehearsal. The two of them are co-leaders now.
The actors in the start wore improvised Halloween costumes of gladiators and simple white tunics. Now the actors have custom-sewn costumes. The set was a parking lot but now takes place in the park overlooking Lake Lanier. Prayers are said in English and Spanish.
The actors want to make sure the audience feels the drama of the play, while it is also a spiritual moment for the actors, she said. One Saturday in Lent is set aside to gather the crew for a day of reflection to make sure they are being spiritually nourished, she said, in addition to rehearsals every weekend of Lent.
“This is a way we do evangelization. This is a way we show our faith,” said Marceleno. “Through art we express our faith.”
For five years, Noel Caballero has participated at the service of Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain, where Good Friday replicates what he knew growing up in his native Panama. Like him, most of the participants are from Latin America where this tradition of a public performance is tied to culture. People come to relive what they experienced in their native lands, he said.
“It’s a day you don’t work. You are dedicated just to (prayer),” said Caballero.
Thousands of the faithful converge at Stone Mountain Park the morning of Good Friday as the sun rises. It draws people from Hispanic Catholic communities across the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Costumed volunteers replicate the Stations of the Cross as the crowd treks up the west side of the mountain. The prayer service is conducted in Spanish.
Climbing the mountain during the summer keeps Caballero fit. But on Good Friday, his focus is on the prayers and singing. The slow hike up 1,868 feet to the peak challenges people, much like Jesus and his followers were challenged in Jerusalem, said Caballero, who is 41 and works for the state of Georgia.
“It’s a battle you have to go through yourself,” he said.
People stumble and have difficulty climbing. But no one is left behind as strangers support each other, he added.
“We all have to help each other,” said Caballero. “It’s a very unique experience.”
On the streets of downtown Atlanta, believers can participate in the annual multilingual and ecumenical walking prayer that links the sufferings of Jesus with the injustices of today.
For Father Urey Mark, chaplain to students at the Atlanta University Center and Georgia State University, this experience brings the faith out of the church. Students weekly follow the traditional Stations of the Cross, but Good Friday on Atlanta streets is unique, he said.
“You really engage the streets that have sometimes experienced violence, sadness, experienced injustice,” said Father Mark.
Participants hear Scripture, reflections drawing on Catholic social teaching, prayer and music. The two-mile route begins at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, at 48 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, then traces a route in the heart of the city, ending at the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“They make it relevant to what is happening now in our world. We are able to connect the passion of Christ with other suffering and other crosses people bear,” he said.