Monday, December 15, 2014
1992 was my 2nd year as pastor of San Roque parish in Saipan.
By then, I figured the people had a year to realize I wasn't too off my rocker and would be open to my ideas. As Lent approached, I got the idea to have our catechism children and teens be involved in a Living Stations of the Cross. They would enact the Stations, dressed for the part.
With the help of some parishioners, I went to fourteen homes in the village and asked the families if they would be willing to be one of the Stations. I made sure to ask some of the families that needed a boost, shall we say, in their Sunday Mass attendance. All the families said yes, and even agreed to furnish the life size wooden crosses to mark each of their homes as a Station.
Getting the costumes was the next chore.
Fortunately, I had already become good friends with a Filipino businessman on Saipan, Mr. Antonio Heras. Tony was looking for a priest to say Mass at his company compound on the feast of St Joseph the Worker for his fifty or so Filipino workers. He was already friends with one of the Spanish Mercedarian sisters on Saipan, since Tony was old-school and spoke Spanish. This Mercedarian asked me to say the Mass, and that's how Tony and I became friends. My ability to speak Spanish, cook him a pasta dish he really liked and steady supply of banter made us close.
Tony put all his Philippines resources at my disposal. I designed on paper the Roman soldier's helmet, sword and shield. This was sent to Manila for his office people to source out to papier mache craftsmen. The soldiers' red capes and the garments for the Jews we simply made ourselves on Saipan. Our catechism teachers and aides were very helpful in making this happen.
I told the boys playing Roman soldiers to whip our Jesus character as he walked. Of course, it was hardly felt but the sight of it made many an eye tear up on the road.
I knew the children and teens would be the main players in this, but I wanted it to be a community experience. So I asked the regular techas, or prayer leaders, all adults, to lead the Stations in Chamorro and sing the traditional hymn for each Station. So, young and old all became part of this prayerful experience.
It was a prayerful experience. There was a somber mood to the whole thing. Even little children stayed true to the ambience. As we walked from Station to Station, I had two young boys beat the drum, military style. That also helped create the right mood. We felt that someone was marching to his death.
The role of Jesus was key.
And I was blessed to have Aldibert as one of my confirmation students. He was, at age 16, already a young man and able to portray Jesus, especially with his long hair. But more than that, Aldibert, without any coaching how to act, naturally acted the part. You can see it in his face.
When it came time to nail the Lord to the cross, I had Aldibert actually lie on the cross. Then I instructed someone to bang very hard with an actual hammer on the wood, but avoiding Aldibert's hands, of course. PANG! PANG! I think that definitely was a moment that got the tears rolling.
When I look on these pics I took almost 23 years ago, I am amazed at these young people. With only two or three practices, all inside the church; with no experience or training in acting, innocent as they were, it seems as if the Spirit just lead them into the mystery of the Passion. I think they were transported to that scene, because it shows in their faces and demeanor in these pics.
It really isn't hard to evangelize and catechize people, if you are open to using traditional methods used with success for hundreds of years.
Besides the obvious effect it had on the children, a feeling of great satisfaction came over me when one of my parishioners, a lady in her 80s who only spoke Chamorro, told me, "I have seen many priests come and go, since before the war. Never have I seen anything like this." It was good to know she also was touched by grace by this.