CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Amid crowds chatting and snapping pictures on 21st-century cellphones, Isaiah Nichols acted out a drama that is more than 2,000 years old at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church on Friday.
Under dull, gray, leaden skies and temperatures that never got above 50 degrees, a record crowd of more than 300 people gathered to witness the church's fifth annual Living Stations of the Cross.
Nichols, a Lee University theology student, said portraying Jesus in the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ's final hours was "humbling."
Indeed, he said he prayed and fasted to be more fully cognizant of the responsibility.
Bringing Christ's last hours to light, said Nichols, is as important a reminder for him as for the Catholics gathered to see it.
The re-enactment was particularly poignant for the Lee student since, after studying the faith for some months, he will take vows today to become a Catholic.
The drama is based on 14 artistic representations -- mostly scriptural -- in most Catholic churches, and on the devotions surrounding those representations of Christ carrying a cross to his crucifixion.
About 40 St. Therese of Lisieux parishioners, almost all Hispanic and many in costumes purchased from Colombia, participated in the drama. It was acted in Spanish, with explanations in English, and took place throughout the several-acre church campus.
The Rev. Alberto Sescon, senior pastor of the church, said the re-enactment should "inspire us to be better," to realize the "unconditional love" of Christ and to know "a hope is given for everybody."
The passions and traditions embodied in the Living Stations of the Cross are seen in the faces of those who attend and in their tears as Christ is lifted to the cross underneath a towering pine tree, he said.
"They really, really feel it," Sescon said.
Crowd re-enactor Mindry Arguello, of Cleveland, said she enjoyed participating.
"It was good," she said in broken English, "very, very fine."
Annette Govero, also of Cleveland, said the drama always makes her emotional, but for differing reasons and to various degrees.
"Just to follow in the footsteps of Jesus" draws her annually, she said. "My mood is depending on where I am spiritually."
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.