Friday, April 14, 2006

Thousands of area Catholics yesterday marked Good Friday by participating in the Via Crucis, a traditional procession commemorating the Passion of Jesus Christ and the walk to his Crucifixion.

“There’s no way we can feel the pain and suffering he felt,” said Margarita Crespo of Silver Spring, who joined a procession in Takoma Park. “But we can at least try to imitate it.”

About 3,000 Catholics — most of them Hispanic — participated in the three-mile procession, which began at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Takoma Park and ended at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring.

As the throng wove its way along New Hampshire Avenue and through the neighborhoods, parishioners young and old sang songs and watched intently as actors portrayed the 14 Stations of the Cross, simulating events such as Christ taking up the cross and later being nailed to the wooden beams.

“It’s the way I can combine with God,” said Ronnie Sibrian, an 11-year-old from Rockville who came with his parents and helped hold a bamboo barrier to separate the crowd from the actors in the procession. “I wanted to come.”

Dimas Mejia, the young actor who portrayed Christ, wore a crown of thorns on his head and had streaks of red paint simulating blood smeared on his face and back. Actors portraying Roman soldiers repeatedly pushed and beat Mr. Mejia with ropes as they walked in the procession.

Mr. Mejia said the day was a solemn reminder of Christ’s suffering and the salvation Catholics and other Christians believe Christ provided with his death on the cross.

“It’s [to remember] what Jesus did for us,” Mr. Mejia, 23, said through an interpreter. “There are no words that can describe my feelings.”

The Via Crucis, or the Way of the Cross, holds a special significance for Catholic Hispanics, many of whom took part in the processions and re-enactments in their native countries before coming to the United States.

“It’s because of tradition,” said Cindy Chavez, a 17-year-old from Adelphi whose parents immigrated from El Salvador. “Your family here in America raised you to believe in God. It’s a way of showing a little respect.”

The Rev. Sergio Ramos of Our Lady of Sorrows said participating in the procession provides the immigrants with a way to hold onto their identities and customs after coming to the United States.

“They come and want to keep this in their lives,” Father Ramos said. “It’s a way to be in touch with the [traditions] of our homelands.”

Father Ramos, who is in his fifth year serving at the parish, said he has seen an increase in the number of Hispanics in the area and the number of Hispanic parishioners at the church in the past five years.

Foreign-born persons accounted for 26.7 percent of Montgomery County’s population in the 2000 U.S. census, and Hispanics were the county’s fastest-growing ethnic group.

The number of Catholics in the county also increased by 8.9 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the American Religion Data Archive.

The burgeoning immigrant population has led the Archdiocese of Washington next year to open its first new high school in 55 years as part of an effort to serve low-income families and an influx of immigrants in the District and the Maryland suburbs.

The school will be housed at the renovated site of Our Lady of Sorrows School in Takoma Park.

Via Crucis processions also took place yesterday in the District, from Our Lady, Queen of the Americas to the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Northwest, and from St. Peter’s Church in Southeast to the Washington Monument.

In Virginia, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington presided over the Stations of the Cross at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Falls Church.

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