The last agonizing hours of Jesus Christ played out beneath a bright sunny sky at Laurel Park in Gainesville on Good Friday.
More than 80 performers and stagehands from the St. John Paul II Mission kept a tradition started by St. Michael Catholic Church 27 years ago by re-enacting a series of 14 scenes leading to the crucifixion of Christ.
Hundreds of spectators lined the way to Calvary with Lake Lanier as a backdrop to witness what is called the Stations of the Cross. Roman soldiers, several of them on horseback, struggled to keep the crowds to the sides as they followed an actor Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha.
Ahead of the crowd, sisters Noemi Marceleno Fowler and Lorena Marceleno, rode the back of a pulled trailer also carrying two large speakers. They shared a microphone as they described each scene and read a prayer. Fowler narrated in English and Marceleno in Spanish.
In her Spanish narration, Marceleno related Jesus’s suffering on the cross to the many hardships immigrants are enduring.
“Our immigrant brothers and sisters are looking for work and a better life for themselves and their families,” she read in Spanish.
Marceleno went to say that many immigrants are forced to “carry the cross of mistreatment, discrimination, racism and exploitation.”
At the end of each reading, the sisters would recite the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. Hundreds of voices from those lining the “Via Dolorosa” joined in the prayer.
Organizers of the Good Friday event changed the venue from St. Michael to Laurel Park, where it has been held for the past 11 years. Marceleno and her husband, Emanuel Almaguer, have directed the spectacle every year that it’s been held at Laurel Park.
Marceleno said this is the first year that the stations have been tied to the plight of immigrants.
“We did this because of what’s happening in this country,” Marceleno said. “The majority of the people in St. John Paul II Mission are immigrants.”
One of those immigrants is Balmaro Vargas, who played Jesus.
Vargas said he was picked for the role during a church meeting.
“I prepared a year for this,” Vargas said in Spanish. “The most important thing was to pray a lot and let myself be used by the Lord. We are his tools and he does everything through his people.”
Vargas said he has no relatives nearby. His brother lives in Indiana and the rest of his family is in Mexico. Still, Vargas said he has a big family at the local church.
Vargas said playing Jesus was an opportunity he would not pass up for anything in the world.
“It’s been a unique experience,” he said. “The truth is, it’s been a blessing from God. I’ve prayed for peace for what’s happening in Syria and all over the world. I’ve prayed for my family and for immigrants.”