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The POWER of the PASSION

Latino version of Holy Week takes three days to tell in Forest Grove


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Filogonio Ramon Estrada, a member of the Hispanic Charismatic Prayer Group, played Jesus in this years Passion Play at St. Anthonys Catholilc Church in Forest Grove. Here he awaits his bloody fate at the hands of Roman soldiers.By the time the Romans finished flogging Jesus in Forest Grove, blood had puddled on the floor of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and spattered over the first few rows of spectators, as Christianity mixed with Latin American culture last week in a vividly acted Passion Play.

For the third year in a row, more than 35 volunteers from St. Anthony’s Spanish-speaking congregation acted out the New Testament’s account of the Easter story, from the “last supper” Jesus shared with his disciples, to his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane, to his trial before a Roman government official — and ending with his crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The drama took a total of three days and was performed before a packed, standing-room-only crowd of about 200 each night.

It included many of the gory details so popular in Passion Plays across Latin America: Jesus crying out in pain as Roman soldiers whip him, blood splashing with every lash and also streaming down his face as they place a crown of thorns on his head.

St. Anthony’s performance didn’t go quite as far as some, said Rafael Manriquez, ministry coordinator for the 400-member congregation. Manriquez joined it 11 years ago, when the congregation was only half that size.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Filegonio Ramon Estrada of Forest Grove played Jesus in the Passion Play at St. Anthonys Catholic Church, going so far as to be hoisted up on a cross in the outfield of a nearby baseball field (where a junior baseball team began practicing Friday night, dodging the empty cross, shortly after actors and audience disbanded for the night).

In some parts of Mexico, Manriquez said, the flogging is real and “they actually put a real nail through the palms on the hands” when the time comes to nail Jesus to the cross. “I’ve heard from my parents,” he said.

The bloody details are important “so people can remember what he went through for us,” Manriquez said. “How hard he was hit and he suffered on the cross. It’s important for the faith to remember.”

According to Christian teachings, Jesus sacrificed his life as a way to forgive people for all the bad things they’ve done and to take the punishment they deserve onto himself.

St. Anthony’s pageant began Thursday with the Last Supper, where the 12 disciples eat with Jesus (played this year by Filegonio Ramon Estrada), who then washes their feet to demonstrate his message of love, service and humility. Parents quickly shushed those children who giggled at the strangely intimate sight between two grown men.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Filegonio Ramon Estrada of Forest Grove played Jesus in the Passion Play at St. Anthonys Catholic Church, going so far as to be hoisted up on a cross in the outfield of a nearby baseball field (where a junior baseball team began practicing Friday night, dodging the empty cross, shortly after actors and audience disbanded for the night).When Jesus told his apostles one of them would betray him, the children in the audience pointed and whispered, trying to guess which one was Judas, the traitor. Adults, meanwhile, quietly murmured “Qué bueno” at various parts of the spectacle.

After the grisly flogging, the Roman soldiers led Jesus off-stage, hands tied, while the crowd sat motionless. Even the children stopped squirming. Moments later, a public-address announcement instructed everyone to assemble outside, where Filegonio struggled under the weight of a giant wooden cross.

Preceded by inspirational music piped from a van and accompanied by a dozen “angelitos” (children dressed as angels), Filegonio staggered across Elm Street — past an astonished-looking woman who stopped her car for the procession — and onto the baseball field in a nearby park.

There, Filegonio screamed as Roman soldiers “nailed” him to the cross.

Manriquez doesn’t know of any neighbors ever calling the police about the screams, but he says some of them now come out to watch the show — including congregation members at nearby St. Bede’s Episcopal Church.

The final leg of the show started at noon on Sunday inside the church and depicted Jesus’ rise from the tomb.

In Mexico, Manriquez said, every little town has its own Passion Play and some shut down business for the whole week leading up to Easter. In western Washington County, he knows of Passion Plays at St. Anthony’s, where many people have Mexican and Guatemalan roots, and also at St. Alexander’s Church in Cornelius.

It’s a lot of work, said Manriquez, who has separate committees and leaders to handle everything from decorations to makeup to prayers to fundraising to lighting and more. There is even a “hanging Judas” committee dedicated solely to handling the part of the play where the traitor Judas hangs himself from a tree outside the church.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - For many members of St. Anthonys Spanish-speaking congregation, the foot-washing scene is their favorite in the Passion Play, according to Ministry Coordinator Rafael Manriquez. It demonstrates Jesus message of service, love and humility.

Edilberto Garcia, who played one of the apostles, had been rehearsing “it seemed like every day since February,” according to his daughter, Monica, who attended with her Anglo boyfriend.

The work is worth it, said Manriquez. “We want to bring the community together.”

For the first time this year, DVDs of the show will be available to congregation members. “A lot of people asked for it,” Manriquez said. “Especially the actors.”

— Jill Rehkopf Smith contributed to this story.