PASSION OF CHRIST
MISTERIUM MĘKI PAŃSKIEJ
The Passion of Christ Returns to Chicago for the Lenten Season: First Impressions and Actor Testimony
March 6, 2022
Photo: Gabi Koszarek
A dim green light casts its glow over the fabric draped altar at St. John Brebeuf, Roman Catholic Church. Faux smoke fills the air and the lingering crowd from the evening mass, as they await the beginning of the Passion.
An imploring song, sung by Catherine Mojsiewicz, begins:
“Come, Oh Lord, come heal our ills.”
Lepers limp in the background. The melodic pleading continues until the refrain.
“Come, Oh Lord, save my soul and bring healing.”
A child mourns and cries over her dying mother’s body.
“Shine light on me. Disperse the dark. I want to live. Let me live.”
The introduction of the Passion of Christ speaks to its viewers.
“I was very moved from the beginning. The music, the atmosphere and the lighting set the tone for the entire play. You were drawn into it immediately.” says Lyn Christy, one of the many audience members of the performance at St. John Brebeuf.
She continues, “If you don’t catch people right from the beginning you will lose them. So, when the crowd was coming and they were all greeting Jesus and they were swarming over him, that was moving to me.”
Specific stories and scenes from the Bible highlight the prayer that the Passion of Christ portrays. It features Christ’s teaching, the Last Supper, praying in the Garden, the scourging, crucifixion and much more.
All the scenes come together for not only a realistic presentation, but an immersive prayer.
Linda, who viewed the Passion for her second time this past weekend, remembered comparing it to the live action film the very first time she saw it. “I remember seeing the movie ‘The Passion’, and we all know the story from the Bible, but seeing it live like this and performed like this it just really touched my heart.”
“It truly really helped” she continued, referencing the most recent production. “Especially during the Lenten season, because we should be thinking about this all the time, just how much God loves us and that Jesus died for our sins! We can never be more grateful than we are now.”
Audience members also highlight some of the most impactful scenes for them personally. For Mickey, this was the very beginning. “I felt it as soon as they walked in and started shouting Jesus is coming!’ I mean it just got you right there. As soon as it started and Mother Mary came down the aisle and she said ‘My son is here’ I felt Jesus really present.”
For others, Judas’ monologue is the most moving, particularly when in his crazed frenzy he points to the audience and announces that “It was you who bought the blood of the righteous man.”
“I mean, he was a hundred percent correct,” says Ann Marie, “Especially with what’s going on today when you see all that happening it just opens your eyes [...] to where it started 2,000 years ago.”
“When you see Peter and Judas betray Jesus, you think about all the things we do because we are sinners,” reflects Linda. “It just makes you look more into your own life.”
“It forces you to look at yourself, and know that we make mistakes and we’ve been up against God too. Even through all our sins and the suffering we have caused God, he forgives us anyways and loves us and never turns his back on us. But, it just makes me look into who I am and makes me want to try to be more like Christ.”
Photo: Katarzyna Pasternak
Heartfelt reactions to the Passion extends not only to its specktators, but to the actors performing as well. The “Passion of Christ” play is made up of a group of about 60 volunteers each fulfilling their role in “Live Theater Production”. Every weekend, they volunteer twelve to even eighteen hours to set up, perform, and clean up after the presentation.
Nineteen performances range from the inner city of Chicago to the far suburbs in twelve parishes, both in English and Polish.
In fact, most of the actors are Polish immigrants, and English is their second language.
But what inspires them to take so much time out of their own Lenten weekends? For Grzegorz Koszarek, the answer is -family.
“We are a family and as a family we made that decision. We decided that this is a nice opportunity to be together and meet new people. It has influenced us a lot. Being able to talk about it together. Perform together. Experience it together. We are in it truly TOGETHER! We want to bring each other closer to Jesus and in the end to his ultimate goal and gift of eternal life.”
Others, such as Piotr Szyszka, were originally pulled in by friends. “I then realized that this is something I really enjoy and that it is a good way to experience Lent on a deeper level.”
Michal Sadowski, who has been performing for over fifteen years, can’t imagine Lent without it. “I love doing this every year to spread the word of Christ.”
The reflection of the Passion also lets actors see themselves in the characters that they portray.
Grzegorz, who plays St. Peter, notes that everyone can see parts of his character in their lives. “Especially when your heart is saying ‘I want to be with you Jesus. I will never leave you. I will never let you down.’ And suddenly, you deny him. And you think to yourself ‘Wow! How could I do that?’ Jesus brings you this comfort that when you ask him for forgiveness, he is going to give it to you. It brings comfort to your soul. ‘I am close to Jesus and I do not have to worry anymore’.”
Piotr Szyszka reflects heartfully on his role as a Roman Legionnaire.
“We all crucify Jesus in some way and I think realizing all the things we’ve committed and everything is a nail in Jesus’s wound and every time he gets hit and everytime I hit it, it reminds me of how it happened 2000 years ago and how He felt when He died for our sins. It is tremendous to experience that.”
“When he is on the cross and the masacre you’ve done to the man, even though you know it’s all acting and fake blood, you really feel it. Especially when He dies. It’s one of the most hurtful feelings you feel, like you’ve actually just killed a man and this man was really the Savior.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Passion of Christ was put on hold for two years. Actors and viewers alike are now excited to spend and reflect on their Lenten seasons in a truly unrepeatable way.
But the pandemic also gave a new rise in the Catholic Church, a crisis within the young people and their faith. To them, Lyn Christy has a message.
“Whenever you feel alone and no one understands you and you think no one is going through what you are going through remember, Jesus suffered everything you could have suffered and way more. He was betrayed, he was betrayed by his best friend, he was beaten, he helped people and they turned on him. He experienced everything that you could experience: aloneness, praying by himself; everything that we experience as young people.”
“We are not alone. I also would suggest to even try to put all of your trust in him. Don't be afraid. Just keep saying ‘Jesus I trust in you’. He will come for you. He is not looking to harm you, or to punish you, or to say you’re unworthy. He wants all of us in heaven. He created all of us. To Him we are all perfect despite our many flaws. He will try to help you, just turn to him, don't despair. Turn to him and love him. Love Him.”
The Passion of Christ will be performing for three more weeks in six different parishes!
Live Theater Production is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to bring theater to our community, with the help of our community. It consists of 70 amateur volunteer actors and singers. It is an opportunity for families to make their dreams of being part of theater a reality, and where curious spectators are able to attend performances free of charge.
Cecylia Jablonska is the director and screenwriter of the Passion of Christ which was set to music by Emmy award-winning composer Andrzej Warzocha. Passion of Christ has been performed all over Chicagoland as a holiday tradition for the past 30 years. It has also toured outside of Illinois, in Arizona, California, Indiana, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and even Canada.
The goals of the Passion of Christ are to deepen faith; provide a chance to fulfill the theatrical dreams of adults and children alike; integrate families through fellowship; discover new leaders; and inspire new passions.
For the viewer, it is an immersive theatrical experience to be enjoyed by all, in addition to a spiritual preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord.
Grupa Teatralna “Live Theater Production”, którego dyrektorem i reżyserem jest Cecylia Jabłońska organizuje Misterium Męki Pańskiej już od ponad 30 lat. Jest to organizacja niedochodowa licząca 70 aktorów wolontariuszy. Daje możliwość całym rodzinom realizowania swoich marzeń teatralnych i muzycznych w religijnej atmosferze.
Celem przedstawienia jest: pogłębienie wiary, danie możliwości spełnienia artystycznego dla dorosłych, młodzieży i dzieci, integracja rodzin i odkrywanie liderów. Dla widzów jest to przeżycie artystyczne, ale jednocześnie duchowe przygotowanie do Zmartwychwstania Pańskiego. Muzykę do Misterium skomponował Andrzej Warzocha, laureat nagrody Emmy.
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