Vía Crucis Festivities in Mexico


TO COMMEMORATE the death of Jesus, some 300 religious festivals are held each year in Mexico. One of the largest is the Vía Crucis, with its processions and portrayals of the final days of Jesus’ life. Vía Crucis comes from Latin and means “Way of the Cross.” In the Iztapalapa district of Mexico City, the director of the local House of Culture explains its origin: ‘In 1833, Iztapalapa had a cholera epidemic. To mitigate the devastation, the live performance of the Passion by members of the community was initiated.’

This is how a typical Vía Crucis takes place: Throngs of people congregate to see a portrayal of the Jewish leaders, the centurions, Jesus’ apostles, and the women who followed him, including Mary. A young man plays the role of Jesus. He has memorized Bible passages to quote as events unfold. The actors use wigs, beards, and mustaches and dress up in thick robes. “Nazarenes” also follow “Jesus,” barefoot or in leather sandals, wearing crowns of thorns to imitate the suffering Jesus experienced. At times, these number up to 2,500. During the day they carry crosses up to Cerro de la Estrella (Star Hill), the place selected to “crucify” Jesus.

Vendors hawk such products as hats, beverages, religious figures to be stenciled onto cheeks or arms, balloons, candy for the children, and a great many other things. Even amusement-park rides are set up for the occasion.

In the city of Querétaro, penitents attempt to walk with their feet in chains. In Taxco, men carry bundles of thorns weighing 90 to 100 pounds [40 to 50 kg] on their backs for almost five hours. Others follow in the procession scourging their own bodies. Often a number of these participants end up in the hospital.

This type of worship may remind us of the apostle Paul’s words when he spoke against “a self-imposed form of worship and mock humility, a severe treatment of the body.” (Colossians 2:23) True Christians indeed commemorate Christ’s death, but they avoid traditions that are rooted in falsehood and that conflict with Bible principles.