All eyes were on the spectacular portrayal of Jesus’ last moments at World Youth Day.
By Catherine Smibert, Anthony Barich, Bridget Spinks
Crowds were reduced to tears as a reverent and devotional Stations of the Cross was re-enacted through the streets of Sydney on July 18 as part of the World Youth Day celebrations.
The Stations of the Cross is a major highlight of each international WYD, and the re-enactment Down Under was no exception.
Organisers estimated a global viewing audience upwards of 500 million tuned in to see the live broadcast, while over 250,000 lined Sydney’s streets to watch the performance.
Although the traditional 14 stations begin with Jesus being condemned to death and conclude with his body being laid in the tomb, the 13 stations of Sydney’s reenactment began with the Last Supper and ended with Christ being taken down from the cross.
Pope Benedict XVI led the people in prayer for the first station, which included Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney’s central business district.
Anthony Gordon, 34, who played the part of the Apostle Bartholomew, admitted to ZENIT he struggled to contain his emotion when the Pope came out with Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, and Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
“When the Pontiff came out, you could feel the warmth and excitement from the crowd.
“You had this compulsion to smile and to dissipate in the rapturous feelings,” the actor said.
Tears rolled down the cheeks of many onlookers for this performance of epic proportions, made more so by the backdrop of an intense Australian sunset.
29-year-old Mario Gabrael, who played one of the Roman guards, admitted, “It was difficult to concentrate on our parts at times because of the emotion associated with it.”
After watching the first station, Benedict XVI descended into the crypt to watch the remainder of the event on television.
Some 100 actors reenacted the stations at Sydney’s key landmarks, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Opera House, the Domain, Darling Harbour and Barangaroo.
Given the distances and roadblocks between stations, the youth could not physically follow the event from station to station. Large-screen televisions were installed at all venues so the crowds could follow the entire procession.
Some of the venues, such as the Sydney Opera House and Barangaroo featured multiple stations.
From St Mary’s Cathedral the procession travelled to the Domain for the second station, which portrayed the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The troupe passed Sydney Hospital, where “Jesus” made an extra stop to acknowledge the ill patients watching from above.
The seventh station at Darling Harbour was performed on a floating pontoon.
Aboriginal man Craig Duncan, wearing a kangaroo skin and traditional body paint, portrayed Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry his cross.
Catherine Naticchia played Susanna in the eighth station – “Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem” – one of the six traditional stations included in the youth day event.
Naticchia reflected that her role “to bear witness to the deep compassion” of the women of Jerusalem “was really important.”
“As women we can truly empathise,” she added, “and present that emotion while many of the men at the time weren’t sure how to respond.”
The last five stations took place at Barangaroo’s north stage.
The crowds watched as Jesus was nailed to the cross, forgave the good thief, and then entrusted his mother Mary to St John, the disciple he loved, with the words of scripture, “Woman, this is your son.”
He then told John, “This is your mother.”
The three-hour event culminated with the crucifixion and the body of Jesus being taken down from the cross, silhouetted against a darkening waterfront at Barangaroo.
The entire performance was directed by Father Franco Cavarra, who has directed operas internationally and around Australia, including at the Sydney Opera House.
He is also a founding member of the longstanding Melbourne International Arts Festival.
The choir of St Mary’s Cathedral provided the background music for the first station, singing Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” while the World Youth Day 2008 Ukrainian choir sang during the sixth station – “Jesus Carries His Cross” – at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt.
The texts supporting the World Youth Day 2008 Stations of the Cross were taken from the Jerusalem Bible, as modified in the Australian Catholic Lectionary.