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Passion of the Christ in Atotonilco

By Jesús Aguado

Atotonilco is a rural community located on the road to Dolores Hidalgo and is the location of the Shrine of Jesus the Nazarene, appointed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Twenty-six years ago, the locals started performing a reenactment of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) which is made up of 14 stations. José Luis Chávez Cortés Baltazar, an inhabitant of el Cortijo, has participated in the Via Crucis for 18 years, since he was 12. He has portrayed apostles and, in 2004, Jesus. The Jesus for this representation is chosen from among the penitents participating in spiritual retreats at the shrine.

On Holy Thursday (April 2) at 8pm a mass is celebrated in the shrine and actors reenact the moment when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles. Later, in an arcade near the church a reenactment of the last supper is held, with the apostles and Christ surrounded by the sinful and godly women. The community has a small garden, and after the Last Supper Christ goes to there to pray. After he has been betrayed by Judas, Roman soldiers arrive and arrest him. Some discussions between the apostles and Roman soldiers transpire, but in the end Jesus decides to fulfill God’s will and goes with the Romans. These acts conclude at 9:30pm approximately.

On Holy Friday (April 3) at noon, in the forecourt of the sanctuary, the reenactment continues with Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate, who declares Jesus innocent but condemns him to death by crucifixion and symbolically washes his hands in front of the crowd, saying that he is innocent of spilling Jesus’s blood. The man who portrays Jesus is taken to a stage where He is whipped with His clothes on, as many times as he can stand. Later, his clothes are taken off and the whipping continues. He is taken down from the stage. A crown made of thorns is placed on his head, and a scepter—a common stick—is handed to him and he is proclaimed, as a mockery, “king of the Romans.” He is strapped to a cross and the journey to Calvary begins. According to Chávez, the scenes are so realistic that some people have fainted or cried during the reenactment.

During the journey to Calvary, the Stations of the Cross are marked with altars adorned with flowers, and at every station Father Fernando Manriquez prays. During the procession Christ falls three times and encounters the Virgin Mary and Veronica, who is mistreated by the soldiers but cleans Jesus’s  bloody face with a cloth. The soldiers select someone from the crowd to help Jesus with the cross, as Simon of Cyrene did. The last station is the crucifixion. Alongside Jesus, Dimas and Gestas walk tied to a post.  The actors remain for 30 minutes on the crosses and then are taken down. At 4pm a small procession for the Holy Burial is held. A similar procession takes place in colonia San Luis Rey the same day at noon.

The 14 Stations of the Cross

1. Christ is condemned to death
2. Christ carries the cross
3. The first fall
4. Meeting with His mother
5. Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross
6. Veronica wipes Christ’s face with a cloth
7. The second fall
8. Encounter with the women of Jerusalem (Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleophas, and Mary Salome)
9. The third fall
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
11. The crucifixion
12. Christ dies on the cross
13. His body is taken down from the cross
14. The body is laid in the tomb
15. Resurrection of God’s son

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