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MEXICO CITY, Apr 9 2004 (IPS) - Jesus Christ was beaten, bound and crucified Friday in the Iztapalapa district of the Mexican capital in a massive annual re-enactment of the “Via Crucis” that dates to the mid-19th century.
Jesus Christ was beaten, bound and crucified Friday in the Iztapalapa district of the Mexican capital in a massive annual re-enactment of the “Via Crucis” that dates to the mid-19th century.
It was Christian street theatre with 450 actors and more than two million spectators – many of whom assured that God had spoken to them.
The actors who portrayed Jesus Christ, Mary, the apostles, Romans and Jews made their way through the massive throng of people to relive a Good Friday tradition that until recently was viewed with suspicion by the Catholic Church hierarchy.
After supping with his disciples on Thursday night and then being arrested, beaten and condemned to death, the Mexican Christ, Andrés Espinosa, 23, took a wooden cross weighing 90 kilos on his shoulders and walked three kilometres before being subjected to a simulated crucifixion.
This religious pageant in Iztapalapa, an older and densely populated neighbourhood of Mexico City, draws bigger crowds than any other Good Friday event of this type in the world.
It is considered one of the most important of Holy Week in Latin America, where religious processions and acts of penitence are common on these dates significant to the Christian faith.
Although the separation of church and state is guaranteed in most Latin American countries, some days of Holy Week continue to be obligatory holidays throughout much of the region, particularly Thursday and Friday, which commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, his capture and his crucifixion.
Thursday, when Jesus Christ of Iztapalapa walked through the streets of his neighbourhood with his apostles, he was stopped several times by people asking for miracles.
Acting in his role, dressed in white robes and wearing a false beard, Espinosa promised that he would attend to their requests.
“Please, Lord, give me a miracle,” Hilaria said to him. She told him that her husband, 59, is very ill and needs help.
Hilaria, a plump indigenous woman, added that even though she realised that the Christ figure she was speaking to was an actor, she is sure that her adherence to Catholic traditions and beliefs will help to obtain the requested miracle, as they did last year when she made a request for herself.
There are dozens of people like her who approach Jesus Christ of Iztapalapa each year to ask for miracles. Meanwhile, others accompany him, carrying heavy crosses, or dragging themselves on their knees or whipping their own backs in signs of penitence.
“For many of those in attendance it is a moving religious experience. It is a mass phenomenon that speaks of deeply rooted traditions and a view of the faith that puts an emphasis on suffering,” religious expert Elio Masferrer told IPS.
Until two years ago, the Mexican Catholic Church maintained that the Iztapalapa pageant was merely theatre and, although respectable, did not merit the Church’s consent.
However, since then, priests have taken part, blessing the actors and asking them to portray the events with respect and in keeping with Christian writings.
The crowds gathered in Iztapalapa are a mix of visibly moved Christian faithful, tourists, vendors shouting and offering their wares, 2,000 police officers and dozens of paramedics.
Historians say that the Iztapalapa pageant began in 1843 as an act of faith aimed at counteracting the cholera epidemic.
A neighbourhood group of Catholic faithful known as the Concilio is in charge of organising the event and selecting the actors who portray the Passion of Jesus Christ.
The selection process is very rigorous, and the actors are required to have been born in the district, to be free of vices and be practicing Catholics.
The events begin on Palm Sunday, with Jesus Christ’s arrival in Iztapalapa and a Mass in his honour, and continue throughout the week. But Friday is the day that draws the biggest crowds, the day on which he was crucified, according to Christian tradition.
“God shows me the way, and that is why I am here to play a Roman who beats Jesus,” said Carlos Martínez, whose family history in Iztapalapa dates back more than 100 years.
Martí Santiago, who also portrayed a Roman, said God had spoken to him in dreams, telling him he should act and follow Jesus to remain healthy.
In Mexico, at least 200 pageants or ceremonies take place in observance of Good Friday.
In the states of Yucatán and Puebla, thousands of people take part in street processions, bearing images and figures from the churches.
In Mexico City, the religious statues in the churches are covered with black mantels. And in the southern state of Oaxaca, believers shut themselves inside the chapels in total darkness as they offer up their lamentations for the death of Jesus Christ.
MEXICO CITY, Apr 9 2004 (IPS) - Jesus Christ was beaten, bound and crucified Friday in the Iztapalapa district of the Mexican capital in a massive annual re-enactment of the "Via Crucis" that dates to the mid-19th century.
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