More than 1,000 people filled New Hampshire Avenue on March 30 during the annual Vía Crucis procession, which traveled from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Takoma Park to St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring.

The Vía Crucis began outside of Our Lady of Sorrows, with people acting out the first station: Jesus is condemned to death. About 20 people dressed as Roman soldiers escorted Jesus to Pontius Pilate, as the crowds yelled asking for him to be crucified. 

As they journeyed along the roughly three-mile route, the crowd stopped for each station to watch the actors bring to life Jesus’s journey to His crucifixion. At each station, after the action took place, there was a brief reflection in English, Spanish, and French, which invited the participants to relate the suffering of Jesus to the suffering of others around the world today.

Georgette Kambere, a member of the French-speaking community at St. Camillus, volunteered to help carry the rope alongside the space where the actors walked during the procession. As she walked, she said she had tears thinking about all the pain that Jesus endured. While she felt the rope got heavy, she said she knows that Jesus’s cross was much heavier.

“For me this is a special moment. You can share Jesus’ suffering…You are following Jesus step by step,” said Kambere. “You have Christ in you…you feel that pain.”

At the second station, the crowd reflected on the many crosses in the world – such as an unemployed father trying to put food on the table for his family, a mother who stays up late to care for a sick child, or a young person who is resisting the pressure to join a gang.

“Help us, oh God, to find meaning and peace in the cross we are carrying,” they prayed.

People of all ages and backgrounds walked through the streets, singing songs in multiple languages, with young kids being pushed in strollers or riding on the shoulders of a family member. As they reached Langley Park, they reflected on the third station: Jesus falls the first time.

“Lord, we see you today in our many brothers and sisters who fall down under the cross of injustice,” the reflection said.

The group reflected on the many immigrants who live in that neighborhood who were forced to leave their home country because of poor conditions or a lack of economic opportunity.

After Jesus met his mother during the fourth station, the crowd reflected on how in many countries around the world, “Mary’s suffering is the suffering of those mothers and fathers who feel helpless to save their loved ones” from poverty, violence, sickness, or other hardships.

As they watched Simon of Cyrene at first resist the request to help Jesus carry his cross, the reflection encouraged the crowd to acknowledge that “like Simon, I often resist carrying the cross of my brothers.”

When Veronica wiped the face of the bleeding Jesus, the group prayed, “show us how to wipe the tears and blood from faces of those living on the margins.”

After walking alongside Jesus, the crowd arrived at St. Camillus, where the last few stations were acted out, concluding with the crucifixion. Kevin Hernandez, the 27-year-old man from St. Camillus’s Langley Park community who was acting as Jesus, was lifted up upon a life-sized cross, where he said Jesus’ last words.

Several men came to remove the body from the cross, covered it up in a white cloth, and carried it inside the church, where everyone else followed to pray, to venerate the cross and to receive Communion.

Hernandez was originally pushed to audition for the Vía Crucis by his mom, and was intending just to go audition for her sake. But after he arrived at the audition and several people told him that he would make a good Jesus, he began to feel “it was more of a calling,” he said.

He got the role to his surprise, and he joined the other actors as they practiced every Sunday for three to five hours for the past two and a half months. At the same time, after he learned that he would be playing Jesus, he felt he needed to take it seriously and make sure he would be a good role model.

“Being Jesus isn’t just about playing the part in the Vía Crucis,” he said. “It meant I would actually have to be a better person.”

After the months of preparation, Hernandez said the actual experience of the Via Crucis gave him the realization, “we take a lot of things for granted.”

While the journey was physically difficult for him – he said the cross was heavy to hold for so long and the wind was cold as it was blowing on his skin – Hernandez also knew that he had a lot of help that Jesus didn’t have, such as a back brace, knee pads, and people who were constantly asking him if he needed water.

“It is one thing seeing and hearing about it, it is another thing being a part of it,” he said, noting that as the Roman soldiers were pretending to whip him, he realized how bad it would have been if they had actually done so, as they did to Jesus.

“I can only imagine the sacrifice He did for us,” said Hernandez.