The scene where Jesus is condemned in St. Peter’s parish’s Passion Play. Photo courtesy of St. Peter’s parish

Passion plays brings Gospel to life

By 
  • March 26, 2016

TORONTO - The Passion Play originated from the Church’s tradition that the Gospel on Good Friday should be sung in Latin, in parts divided among several people. Its popularity took off in 13th-century Europe and over the centuries has spread worldwide.

Today in the Archdiocese of Toronto, a number of parishes have taken up the time-honoured tradition and turned it into a high point of the community’s Lenten and Easter season.
St. Fidelis parish has been putting on its own Passion Play for about 30 years now. This year, there are about 80 people involved in the production. Vince Tarantino has been co-ordinating the production since 1992 and said the cast and crew are mostly made up of the parish’s young people.

“We’re trying to teach our kids about what Jesus did for us,” said Tarantino. “For some of them, instead of coming to church every three or four months, they’re coming on a more regular basis... and at the end they really develop that family feel among them.”

Tarantino said cast and crew have been rehearsing twice a week since December, rehearsals becoming more frequent as the performance approaches.

The parish rotates through 10 scripts written by Tarantino and other St. Fidelis parishioners. Each year, the script focuses on the perspective of a different character — from the eyes of Mary to a Roman centurion, even through the eyes of children. This year, St. Matthew’s Passion is seen through the contemporary eyes of a young man struggling with addiction.

The Passion Play is a big undertaking for any parish, but the spiritual rewards make it worthwhile. St. Peter’s parish in Woodbridge has a cast and crew of about 120 children, youth and young adults. Fr. Michael Corcione said it’s a lot of work, but well worth it.

“I always say as long as the kids want to do it, we do it,” said Corcione. “Every year, we get 120, 130 and sometimes 150 students coming out to participate in the play.”

St. Peter’s Passion Play has been running for 14 years. Corcione brought the tradition from his formation days as a seminarian in New Jersey.

Since the parish first put on the play in 2002, Corcione said the script has evolved. Every year, a new group of young people bring different talents and skills to the play which helps them internalize the story.

Corcione said one of the most rewarding parts is the discussions with the young people during rehearsal.

“I get (questions) all the time and they would say, ‘Why don’t we do it this way? Why don’t we do it that way?’ It gets them to understand that the play is strictly based upon the Scriptures... I give them guidance, but I don’t tell them how to play it,” said Corcione.

St. Joseph the Worker parish in Thornhill has seen the same thing in its young people. St. Joseph’s Passion Play has been running since 2011, following youth minister Vlad Mamaradlo from a previous parish.

“Most kids who are, for whatever reason, have turned off from the Church or have stopped coming... if you invite them to something like Mass or even Steubenville where you have to pay, the likelihood they’ll say yes is very minimal,” said Mamaradlo. “But when you use their gifts and their talents... there’s a greater likelihood of young people getting involved.”

The Passion Play is a highlight for parish life at St. Joseph’s. Mamaradlo said it allows parishioners to see the benefits of having a vibrant youth ministry that uses the different talents of more than 250 of its young people.

However, the play is just the beginning because long after the last performance on Good Friday, the cast and crew come together for a reunion dinner to celebrate their success. Mamaradlo said it’s important the parish continues to build that relationship with the youth because it will lead to deeper spiritual fruits in future events.

“We’re planning to bring 250 kids to Steubenville Toronto this year,” he said. “Now you’ve got a sense of what it feels like to be involved in the Church, let’s take it a little bit deeper.”

Preparations begin as early as September when a new script is written for the year. Mamaradlo said it’s important to have a new script each year to allow for reflection on the year together.

“On one hand the redeeming work of Christ and who He is doesn’t change, but we change,” he said. “And because we change, we always need to look at the cross from a new angle and a new perspective.”

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