Actors portrays a soldier at the Cross sharing how Jesus’ resurrection brought light into all the darkness as part of Ottawa’s Annunciation of the Lord Parish’s Holy Week Adventure. Photo from Ruth O’Reilly

A Holy Week excellent adventure

  • March 27, 2024

Tracey Jemmeson, the first-year principal of Thomas D’Arcy McGee Catholic Elementary School in Ottawa, heard positive advance buzz about Annunciation of the Lord Parish’s Holy Week Adventure from her colleagues and fellow congregants.

However, when she walked into the house of worship with students to experience it for the first time, she said “it truly took my breath away.”

“The way that the volunteers presented the story of Jesus’ last week was very child-friendly,” said Jemmeson. “They took their roles so seriously. The kids believed they were that person. Like the lady who played Veronica. She was so passionate and into it.

“I have a lot of non-Catholics at my school who participated and when they said, ‘it’s time to pray,’ everyone participated. The kids were so engaged because the way the story was presented was in a way that was easy for them to understand. They made connections like, ‘have you ever done anything nice for someone else without expecting something back’ when Jesus’ selflessness was discussed.”

A team of 20 actors and behind-the-scenes personnel presented the hour-long program — conceptualized mainly for kids between the ages of four and 10 — for students during the day, and for parish families and the general public in the evening. New tours launched every 15 minutes.

The kids encounter the likes of Bartimaeus, the formerly blind man miraculously healed by Jesus, St. Peter in the high priest’s courtyard, a Roman soldier at the foot of the Cross, Veronica on the road to Calvary and St. John outside the Upper Room. An estimated 350 children participated.

Ruth O’Reilly, the parish’s communications coordinator, organized the Holy Week Adventure alongside her mother Laura, Annunciation’s director of faith and mission. They first developed this initiative when they were attending Christ the King Parish in Regina.

O’Reilly said the attention to detail devoted towards the costuming, set decorating and sound design translates into a transporting journey. 

“We really put a lot of effort into transforming the space whether it be daytime or nighttime so that the kids can really enter the scene and feel like they are really there,” said Ruth, who also serves as a digital communications and marketing specialist for the Ottawa-Cornwall Archdiocese. “We put a lot of good work together that can be saved for future years so it doesn’t actually become that expensive after a while, which is nice.”

While some of the physical materials are used year after year, there is a “three- or four-year” rotation of themes for the Holy Week Adventure.

“This particular year we were really talking about the Gospel message of how sin separates us from God, but Jesus takes on our sin and saves us,” said O’Reilly. “The message about how God sees them, knows them and saves them from their sin was repeated. They actually got to take home a candle from the tomb station and say a prayer with it to remember how Jesus died just for them out of love.”

O’Reilly, 26, said the Holy Week Adventure team is spiritually enriched through this experience because it is inspiring to see kids engage with their faith. They do so via their curiosity or by offering uplifting words to the actors fully committed to authentically portraying their emotionally tortured characters, notably Peter who is wracked by shame and guilt for denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed twice.

“We have had kids comfort some of the actors who are heartbroken by saying, ‘Jesus loves you.’ It is really powerful to see the faith of children. It is also great to hear their questions. Not all of them come from Catholic families so it’s really neat to provide a safe and open environment where they can encounter the story and then ask their questions.”

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