Holy Week tradition returns to Catholic churches after 3 years of pandemic absence

As omicron’s push wears off, the Catholic Church on Long Island is bringing back a cherished Holy Week ritual for the first time in three years after the pandemic shutdown.

Live Good Friday street processions with hundreds of people marking the Stations of the Cross will take place in several parishes and in a large Catholic cemetery.

Other parishes hold smaller indoor Stations of the Cross devotions every Friday during Lent, one of the holiest times of the year in Christianity. Lent began on Ash Wednesday, March 2.

Good Friday commemorates the last day of Jesus when he was crucified. It is followed by Easter Sunday, when worshipers believe that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury will bring back its Stations of the Cross live on Friday, April 15, said Richard Bie, CEO of Long Island Catholic Cemeteries. The event usually attracts around 400 people.

“It’s something people look forward to every year,” he said. “We’re excited to really put it back into play this year.”

Stations of the Cross at the Cemetery

The ritual will take place from noon, with the crowd passing through 14 stations illustrating the last day of Jesus. Each station has a large monument to mark the journey of Jesus.

The stations include the scenes of his betrayal by Judas and his death sentence, as well as Jesus carrying the cross, being heckled by the crowd, being crucified and then buried.

Cemetery Deacons will lead the crowd as they march along the 1 ½ mile route

Bie says it’s a particularly powerful ritual since some participants will walk past the graves of their own loved ones.

Some of these graves belong to victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Others died of COVID-19.

“To see 400 people walking through the cemetery is very special,” said John F. Kennedy, chief financial officer of Long Island Catholic Cemeteries. “People get a lot of comfort out of it.”

The cemetery has been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, with the number of burials each day two or three times the norm, Bie said.

“The pandemic has hit everyone very hard,” he said., although the cemetery “has tried to maintain a sense of normalcy throughout the pandemic” by allowing as many families as possible to gather for burials.

Latest live stations in 2019

At St. John of God’s Roman Catholic Church in Central Islip, church leaders hope to resume their popular live-streamed Stations of the Cross, which usually also draws several hundred people, said Rev. Daniel Rivera, pastor of the ‘church.

The parish last celebrated the Stations of the Cross in 2019.

“The beauty of these celebrations is that they really take you back to where Jesus died on the cross,” Rivera said. “People really identify with that.”

He says “it’s something people are looking forward to, bringing back those traditions that enrich the faith and the life of the parish…It’s so helpful for spiritual growth, on those holy days.”

Rivera said the parish also brought back other events that had been put on hold due to the pandemic. In December, he held a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, including a concert in honor of Mary, a midnight mass, and a social gathering with refreshments.

In October, instead of Columbus Day, the parish celebrated Día de la Raza (Race Day), which focuses on the indigenous population of America.

Rivera said his parish and others brought back altar servers last year when restrictions were eased, although he saw many new volunteers.

After enduring restrictions and wearing a mask for months, “it seems like they’re very excited to serve,” Rivera said.

Procession through the streets

Another major live Stations of the Cross that will take place in the streets will also return to St. Hugh of Lincoln’s Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station after a three-year absence.

The faithful will visit the various parishioners as they mark each station and then return to the church to conclude the rites, said the Reverend Robert Smith, parish priest.

Parishioners “are certainly excited and thrilled to be able to return to this beloved part of our holy days,” Smith said.

Other denominations are also bringing the tradition back.

At Trinity-St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hewlett, the pastor, the Reverend Chris Ballard, said he organized a trip to Jerusalem four years ago in which congregants along with their relatives and friends traveled the true route Jesus took on Good Friday.

Now, for the first time in three years, they have the chance to mark the Stations of the Cross at their church in Hewlett, he said. They observe the Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent.

“We remember those places and we remember what it was like,” Ballard said. “It’s really quite deep.”

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