Lucas da Silva portrays Christ at the Last Supper in St. Padre Pio Parish’s production of Lead Me to the Cross. Performed twice, it raised about $60,000 for the parish. Photo from Manny Ceron

Parish’s passion comes to play

  • March 29, 2024

In 2023, a company of cast and crew produced the musical passion play The Power of the Cross they hoped would uplift and unify the congregation of St. Padre Pio Parish in Kleinberg, Ont., following the long years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It proved a smashing success, as nearly 700 people attended the evening showing on Palm Sunday, and more than $30,000 was raised for the church. 

The 2024 production, Lead Me To The Cross, A Musically Immersed Passion Play, proved to be even more of a triumph as it was performed twice (March 22 and 24) and drew over 1,200 spectators and generated at least $60,000 for St. Padre Pio Parish.

The director, Liana Del Mastro, and two principal actors, Lucas da Silva and Arianna Comella, told The Catholic Register it was rewarding the team that executed the play grew from 32 last year to 54 this time around.

While onlookers of Jesus’ sacrificial death narrated the story last year, this time, the co-founder and artistic director of The Institute For The Performing Arts in Vaughan presented Christ’s last days from the perspective of the community of believers who witness and commemorate His saving passion today.

“It hit me that in the poem we hear all the time, ‘Footprints in the Sand,’ our belief has to be so strong to know that Jesus is walking with us all the time,” said Del Mastro.

“It struck me that He leads us to the Cross every time we are at church. That is where the name came from, and I found a song called ‘Lead Me to the Cross’ from Hillsong.”

Scene one of Lead Me To The Cross sets the tone for Del Mastro’s dramatic and thematic approach. The play opens in contemporary times with many different people praying to Jesus. Sound effects of believers worldwide offering up their petitions were woven into this sequence to underscore that the Passion of Christ is a global story.

For the second year, da Silva portrayed Jesus Christ. He wanted “to bring a little more to the table” this time. His preparation to portray Jesus effectively paid dividends in his relationship with God.

“I got deep into the Scriptures, even the stuff that is not touched on in the play because it all inspires each other,” said da Silva. “It brought me deeper into my faith, knowledge of the Bible itself and even Church history. I have been strengthened as a Catholic in a lot of ways.”

Del Mastro, who has worked with da Silva on several previous occasions, said she cherishes “taking a moment to pray with and hug” her lead performer before he undertakes his deeply emotional journey on stage.

As for Comella, she reprised her role as Mary Magdalene. The actress said she treasures her character’s emotional arc of going “from profound sadness to a moment of pure joy” when she sees Jesus rise. She told The Register that something powerfully transporting occurs when she and her castmates perform these Biblical events.

“When we are re-enacting these scenes, and we hear the words of the Gospel, the words I have heard since I was a child when I’m up there on that stage that we’ve taken from an altar, I feel like I was there,” said Comella.

“I know that sounds weird, but it feels like, ‘wow, I was actually there. I witnessed this.’ I have no doubt that this story we are telling is reaching many people, and they are coming to know Jesus through this project.

Del Mastro concurred with Comella, adding that many people have increased their dedication and commitment to St. Padre Pio Parish after first becoming involved in the passion plays.  

“We have young families with children making the sacraments, and typically, we see these families come and go after the sacraments, but I really feel that a lot of them will stick around because some of them have gotten involved in the passion play,” said Del Mastro.

“They have felt this sense of welcome and community. I have also heard from a couple of the actors new to the parish saying that they are trying to find their footing and place, and the passion play has helped them meet people. Now, some want to join our choir and others want to become lectors.”

Not only does this company collaborate on performing the play, but it has also become proficient in building and striking the set each time it is rehearsed in St. Padre Pio Church. They set up a cobblestone pathway that leads down the chapel’s central aisle and constructed stone walls and leave nothing in place as so as not to interrupt the other activities occurring in this parish. It took multiple hours at first to set up and tear down, but the crew now has it down to an hour each time.

Several of the musical numbers performed during Lead Me To The Cross, A Musically Immersed Passion Play include Hillsong’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), You Say,” by contemporary Christian artist Lauren Daigle, and “Just as I Am,” which has been performed by artists such as Alan Jackson and Carrie Underwood. 

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