Thursday, April 5, 2007

Thousands of Roman Catholics are expected to commemorate Jesus Christ’s last hours in street processions throughout the area today — an example of Hispanic immigrants’ growing presence in the U.S. Catholic Church.

The traditionally Hispanic Catholic “via crucis” processions, Latin for “way of the cross,” are becoming increasingly popular in mainstream churches across the nation.

“We’ve taken this Hispanic Catholic tradition and brought it here,” said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Via crucis processions are Passion plays — dramatized depictions of the suffering, death and Resurrection of Christ — combined with street theater.

More than 2,000 people are expected to participate in a walk that begins at noon at Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Takoma Park and ends at about 4 p.m. at St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring.

For the first time, the event will include prayers and hymns in French — in addition to English and Spanish — to accommodate the area’s growing West African population, Miss Gibbs said.

The archdiocese estimates that 170,000, or 30 percent, of its 563,000 Catholics are Hispanic, but the number could be as high as 300,000 because many Hispanics are undocumented, said Bishop Francisco Gonzalez, an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops estimates that 27 million — or 39 percent — of the country’s 69 million Catholics are Hispanic. The conference projects that number will reach 50 percent of the country’s total Catholic population by 2020.

Of the Washington Archdiocese’s 140 parishes, 31 have Hispanic ministries. The archdiocese offers 51 Spanish-language Masses every week.

Our Lady, Queen of the Americas in Northwest is entirely Spanish-speaking. The parish was founded in 1966 as Capilla Latina.

Bishop Gonzalez, a student at Catholic University in the early 1960s, said, “In those days, if you wanted to attend Mass in Spanish or find a priest who speaks Spanish, it was quite a challenge.”

Now, the archdiocese has about 50 Spanish-speaking priests, he said.

“We still need more, but we are serving the community to the best of our ability,” he said.

Other multicultural Good Friday events include a via crucis beginning at St. Michael the Archangel in Silver Spring at 1 p.m. and ending at the same location at 3 p.m. Another via crucis will begin at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas at 3 p.m. and end at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Northwest at 4 p.m.

Shrine of the Sacred Heart, in Columbia Heights, will hold its annual Passion play followed by a street procession with prayers and songs in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Vietnamese.

Hispanic Catholics do not celebrate Easter services differently, Miss Gibbs said.

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