Holy Week in Iztapalapa
By Oswaldo Mejía
The representation of the Vía Crucis of Jesus of Nazareth in Iztapalapa, an area of Mexico City, has been named a Patrimonio Cultural del Distrito Federal by UNESCO. The tradition dates from 1846 and has become a monumental reenactment that attracts two to three million spectators from Mexico and abroad.
At a press conference, Carla Molina Brugada, head of the Iztapalapa district (delegación), said that more than 150 years ago a group of inhabitants of the eight neighborhoods of Iztapalapa went on a pilgrimage to visit the Señor de la Cuevita (Lord of the Little Cave), to ask Christ’s intercession to stop a cholera epidemic. In return, they promised to perform a representation of Holy Week in the Cerro de la Estrella area yearly. Over the years the procession has become a symbol of the residents’ identity.
About five thousand actors from the eight neighborhoods participate in the re-enactment. According to the organizing committee, participants cannot have tattoos, piercings or any vices if they want to take part in the proceedings, because such things are seen as running counter to the faith, respect and love of the devoted.
“This opportunity is given to us only once in a lifetime, and when it is our turn to participate we give everything and put our hearts into it. Faith and love for the tradition of the eight neighbohoods is what motivates us to participate in this,” said David López Domínguez, who will play Jesus, the role that demands greatest physical and spiritual preparation and instills the greatest expectations among the attendees.
López is 23 and is studying gastronomy; he is a native of the neighborhood of San José, and he says the message conveyed to people during the procession was his main motivation for seeking the role of Jesus of Nazareth. In 2006 he portrayed the apostle John, and after that experience he felt closer to the tradition.
“At first,” he said, “the uncertainty of not knowing whether you will be chosen to portray Christ is nerve-wracking, but hearing your name when they announce you have the role is amazing. At school all my friends support me, although many of them do not believe that I will play my part well because they say that my personality is very cheerful. However, I get compliments because they discover another side of me.
“The experience has changed the way I see and treat people. I am encouraged to be better each day through the simple things that life gives you, because you do not need big things to live and be happy,” said David, who is proud that so many young people participate in the re-enactment.
David will carry a cross built of two pine beams made by the Juárez family, who for 40 years have taken on this responsibility. The cross measures 6.3 meters high and has a 3.6- meter crossbar. He also wears a crown of thorns made of huizache. He will wear a wig, makeup and seven different costumes during the course of the procession.
María Fernanda Calderón de la Barca will play Mary. “It is a great honor and a privilege, and I feel proud to have this opportunity to convey the message of unity, faith, devotion and dedication felt by the residents of the eight neighborhoods,” she said.
Calderón de la Barca is 23, and this is her seventh time participating in the re-enactment playing different roles, but this is the first year she auditioned to play the Virgin Mary. Her motivation is faith, devotion and a great love for the Virgin, as well as the importance of Mary in the life of Christ and in the Catholic faith.
She explained that this representation is a symbol of peace and reflection in which people can strengthen family and social values that have been broken. “This is the only message we want to convey to the audience,” she said.
Walking under the hot sun will not stop the faithful who come as Nazarenes to attend the re-enactment, which transform Iztapalapa into a holy ground. Moved by faith, they come to fulfill promises, ask for the healing of sick relatives or simply to feel something of the suffering endured by Christ.
The representation of the Passion of Christ is an act of devotion for Mexicans and a cultural event transmitted from generation to generation that will continue calling the faithful, who see in the re-enactment a hope of peace for Mexico.