Latin America Celebrates Easter
On Sunday, April 1st, millions all over the world celebrated the Christian holiday Easter. Easter used to be the biggest of the Christian holidays, but now in America it seems to have fallen behind Christmas in its cultural importance. However, Brazil and other Latin American countries still put on large events and keep traditions celebrating Easter week.
A review of the significance of the holiday: the Easter week begins the Sunday before Easter, known as Palm Sunday, when palm fronds were placed on the ground before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples before his crucifixion, which is remembered the next day on Good Friday. These more somber days of remembrance and reflection lead up to Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, representing Jesus’ atonement and forgiveness for sins and promise of eternal life.
For the last 50 years, the town of Pernambuco, Brazil has put on the play Paixão de Cristo, or Passion of Christ. It runs every night of the Easter week and attracts thousands of visitors each year. The cast and extras number over 500, though many of them are not professional actors and for some, this production is their first time coming to the outdoor theater that they call the “New Jerusalem.”
While the production in Pernambuco is the biggest and perhaps most traditional in Brazil, many other towns also put on their own local versions as well.
In Brazil’s capital, the youth of the Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Vila Prudente, have spent every weekend of the past year rehearsing for their Passion of Christ play. Their tradition is newer, beginning in 1997, but it has grown to a cast of about 150 in a show with a longer running time since its conception. The performers take their roles seriously, preparing their minds and bodies for months in advance to be able to do the physical labor of carrying the cross in the play.
In Goias, Brazil, thousands participated in the Procession of the Torches, a procession beginning in the early hours of the morning on Thursday and continuing through the town to the St. Francis of Paola Church, which represented the Mount of Olives and Jesus’ capture.
Another important tradition of the holiday is to take communion on Easter or Good Friday. In Venezuela, the economic crisis has caused a shortage of flour, leaving churches struggling to make wafers for communion. In light of the holiday, a church in Colombia reached out to a Venezuelan church on the border between the two countries in the city of Cutuca and donated 250,000 wafers to them, handing them over a bridge on the border.