By Anthony Barich
Alfio Stuto knows he can’t take away the sins of the world as Christ did on the cross, but he was able to at least offer up his own suffering for those who are going through worse.
As the actor who portrayed Jesus in the reverent re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross through the streets of Sydney as part of World Youth Day on July 18, Alfio revealed to The Record that it wasn’t all fake.
Due to the distances between some of the Stations played out at key locations around Sydney, pilgrims couldn’t watch all of it, yet the actors who played the Roman guards dragged “Jesus” through the streets of Sydney, forcing him to carry a massive cross all the way.
Alfio admitted the next day that as he was strung upside down by his feet from steel columns for the Scourging at the Pillar, he was genuinely scared. The actors weren’t aggressive, but it was real enough for the actor to at least get an inkling of the suffering Jesus endured 2000 years ago.
“Physically, the dragging and the scourging bit, I felt pretty vulnerable being strung upside down,” said Alfio, who works in the advertising industry for a crust. “The actors created that sense of vulnerability. It became real. It seemed like they really wanted to hurt me and I became scared, for real.”
Though he ended up with a few scratches and bruises on his legs and arms, he took it all in his stride, and offered it up for those suffering in the world.
In this way, the whole performance was a prayer.
Did it hurt? “A little,” he said, “but it’s not even a speck on what Jesus went through, so…(God), if you think it’s right, give me more pain.”
Both Alfio and Sydney beauty therapist Marina Dixon, who played Mary, prepared for the role with prayer and sacrifice, knowing that the performance would be a “sacred” act – the ultimate acting. Alfio said he prepared by quieting himself, which helped keep him focused.
“I tried to think of the world and where it’s at today, get a deep understanding of the suffering and poverty going on and use that as the drive and feel the pain of what’s happening,” Alfio said.
“Physically I tried to keep fit, running a lot, as there are internal benefits; it keeps you mentally alert.”
He also prepared by listening to Gospel and religious music, which assisted reflection and meditation.
Both actors stayed away from popular portrayals of Christ and Mary, such as those by Jim Caviezel and Maia Morgenstern’s in The Passion of the Christ.
Marina also meditated on the Gospel in her preparation.
“I lost myself in it. I tried not to watch any movies as I didn’t want to mimic them, I wanted it to be pure and honest,” she said.
“I wanted my performance to show how much I love God. We are showing the embodiment of our faith.”
As the Passion is a love story between Jesus and His mother, Alfio drew on those things that affected him personally, reflecting on his own mother.
“I had to dig deep – everyone suffers in life, so I thought about what suffering I had gone through and used that as a drive and I tried to offer it all up to the Lord.”
The experience brought them both closer to God, as the whole performance was, for them, a prayer.
“I’ve found another dimension to my faith,” Alfio said, “and hopefully through this role, we can become messengers and share something in the ‘post-production’, of our emotions and faith.”
Marina said the experience has taught her to “rest in God, and to surrender – that’s a big thing; and to just trust that the Spirit of the Lord will have His way, no matter how weak we are”.
“I’ve found a real intimacy; I’ve definitely come closer to God. My emotions have been so intense, my voice has changed, the intensity of the last few months has affected my physically.”
Marina said the casting agents first considered the depth of their faith then their acting skills, and the result has been the overwhelming feeling of knowing they have personally touched people, as many who witnessed their performance were in tears.
“It doesn’t get better than this,” Alfio said, “to serve God and to touch so many people’s hearts. That’s why I’m on such a high: watching so many people be affected.”
Marina spoke of her awareness at WYD08 of a deep hunger of young people to know and love God more, “and that’s so beautiful to see”.
“Seek intimacy with God through prayer; see the bigger picture, the body of Christ as a whole. And live the faith, don’t let it just be a Sunday event. Live it daily in everything you are to glorify God.”
She sensed at WYD “a real joy – everyone’s just been connecting and happy. There could be divisions (between Catholics), but there hasn’t been”.
Marina says she will never be the same after World Youth Day, and especially after being a part of the Stations of the Cross so intimately. “Even today I feel a bit melancholy.”