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Latino Daily News

Saturday April 7, 2012

The Passion of Iztapalapa,  Play Draws Hundreds of Thousands in Mexico

The Passion of Iztapalapa,  Play Draws Hundreds of Thousands in Mexico

Photo: Mexico Izttapalapa Passion

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The Passion of Iztapalapa, a massive annual procession in which the faithful reenact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and commemorate the end of a 19th-century epidemic, drew hundreds of thousands to the streets of Mexico City.

A total of 5,000 residents of this northeastern borough - 150 with speaking roles - formed part of the cast for the hours-long Good Friday Passion Play, which is one of the world’s largest and has been staged uninterruptedly since 1843.

One of the cast members, 19-year-old Fernando, who wore a brown tunic, said he has taken part in the play for more than a decade and played numerous different roles.

“I was a Nazarene for seven years; last year I played a leper and for four years, including this year, I’ve been a Jew. I do it for the tradition more than anything,” he said.

The selection process for the actors is very rigorous and borough authorities require those playing the roles of Jesus of Nazareth or the Virgin Mary to be single, young natives of Iztapalapa who are practitioners of the Catholic faith and people of “recognized honorable character.”

Twenty-three-year-old gastronomy student Jesus Lopez beat out five others on this occasion for the role of the Messiah, whose requirements include remaining celibate for a year.

Maria Fernanda Calderon, a 23-year-old criminology and criminal justice student, won the part of the Virgin Mary for the first time after playing other roles in past years.

Good Friday is regarded as a day of sacrifice for the local population and therefore numerous faithful flooded the streets at dawn bearing crosses, which they would later carry two kilometers (1.2 miles) to the Cerro de la Estrella, which emulates Calvary during the Passion play.

Earlier, thousands of people gathered to witness the scene of Jesus being tried by Pontius Pilate at midday at the Cuitlahuac Metropolitan Macroplaza and turned over to the Pharisees.

Following the trial scene, some 10,000 faithful took part in the walk to Calvary, carrying crosses of different sizes depending on their age and physical strength.

One of them, Edgar Moreno, 19, said he has made the difficult climb up Cerro de la Estrella for four straight years.

“It’s tiring and difficult, but you’re being true to your vow. I promised it for my son, so (God) would give us health and life and I’m going to keep doing it until God takes my life from me,” he said.

Cast members playing Roman soldiers rode horses lent to them by the Mexico City police, which trained the actors. According to legend, Emiliano Zapata, a key figure in the Mexican Revolution, lent some his horses for the Iztapalapa Passion Play of 1914.

The religious procession in that borough, one of the most traditional and well-attended among Mexican Catholics, has its roots in a cholera epidemic that devastated Iztapalapa in the 1840s, then inhabited by some 20,000 people, mostly Indians.

A procession was performed to an image of Christ in 1843 and, when the epidemic subsided soon afterward, it was taken as a miracle and the people’s expressions of gratitude were crystallized in the annual Passion Play ceremony.

Friday’s event took place without interruption under the watchful eye of some 6,000 police officers and, according to borough chief Clara Brugada, drew an estimated 300,000 people.

This year’s Passion Play was held days after the Mexico City government declared the procession part of the capital’s intangible heritage, a step prior to submitting it for official recognition in that category by UNESCO.