A cross to bear for Jesus actor who lost his mother two years ago
Hundreds turned out for the Good Friday Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, procession in Pilsen. The procession reenacts the time before, during and after Jesus’ crucifixion.
A light snow fell under a predawn sky Friday, as “Jesus” and the faithful began digging a hole for where the cross would rise in Pilsen’s Harrison Park.
Ivan Luis Barajas was considering the cold a littler later, as he stood in only a white loin cloth and smeared gel on his bald scalp. Moments later, he knelt down for a chestnut wig to be placed on his head — and for the transformation into the Christian savior to be complete.
“The Lord shall provide warmth,” joked Barajas, 40, a retired Illinois Department of Transportation recruiter.
Barajas played the central role in the Providence of God Catholic Church’s Via Crucis, a hugely popular reenactment of the last days of Christ that includes the raising of a [fake] blood-spattered Savior on a wooden cross.
The actor portraying Christ — a one-time honor — should be humble, faithful and active in their parish, organizers says. For Barajas, the role took on a special meaning. It was his mother who constantly encouraged his faith. She died two years ago of a heart attack.
Before he took the stage for the Last Supper scene, Barajas’ sister, Rosa Barajas Vargas, hugged him tightly and said, “Mami will be with you the entire way.” His daughter Destiny Alexandra Barajas played the role of the Virgin Mary.
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The cast of about 45 was double what it was a year ago, said Nellie Quintana, president of the event’s coordinating committee. Only six actors took part in 2020, she said.
“They were scared of COVID. We couldn’t have rehearsals. We couldn’t gather,” Quintana said. “It’s back to normal.”
It was standing-room only in the church’s basement Friday, although organizers said the pandemic likely still kept some away. Mamas stuffed lollipops in kids’ mouths to silence howls. Some older guests bowed their heads in prayer. And even the little ones fell silent when the Roman soldiers threw Jesus to the ground and began whipping him.
“Crucify him!” Crucify him!” the extras yelled in Spanish.
A little while later, Jesus made his way to Calvary — in this case, Harrison Park. With hundreds watching, he carried the cross down Pilsen’s West 18th, as a centurion continued to whip and mock him.
Jesus and his tormentors made their way past taquerias, nail salons, a tattoo parlor, a liquor store. People hung out of windows, holding up cell phones. So, too, did a couple of workers with tattooed, soot-blackened fingers.
All the while, Jesus cried out in pain.
“It’s very graphic, and that’s important because it highlights the sacrifice that Christ made for us when he went through this 2,000 years ago,” said Luis Perez, 42, who has been coming to the event since he was a kid. Friday marked the 45th annual Stations of the Cross. “We can only read so much from the Bible, but it doesn’t show you the extent of the torture he went through.”
At Harrison Park, the centurions yanked away Jesus’ robe, and he was hoisted up on the cross, wearing only the loin cloth.
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” he cried in Spanish.
A few minutes later, Barajas was carefully helped down from the cross.
He said as he was carrying the cross, he often thought about his mother.
“She always taught us to go ahead and be people of faith,” he said, a quaver in his voice. “This is the community I grew up in, and it means a lot. I know she’s very happy and proud. She’s up there in heaven, and I definitely did this for her and for the community.”