The re-enactment of Christ’s Passion will return to the streets of Toronto’s Little Italy following a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Above is a scene from the 2011 Good Friday procession. Vincenzo Pietropaolo

Good Friday procession in Toronto makes its return

  • March 22, 2023

The annual Good Friday procession which for seven decades has taken over the streets of Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood is set for a grand return this year after three years of pandemic-induced dormancy. 

St. Francis of Assisi Parish, which hosts the annual parade, is dusting off the cobwebs of the costumes that have been in storage since 2020 when COVID-19 put a halt to pretty much every gathering in Toronto and around the world. 

Concerns about COVID continued into the following year and last year’s loosening of pandemic regulations didn’t come in time to allow the parish to plan for such a large event.

But parishioners would not be denied this year and for some time plans have been put in place to resurrect the procession. Soon after Fr. Massimo Buttigieg assumed the role of pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish last September, his congregation expressed the wish to resuscitate this tradition that dates back to either 1953 or 1955 (organizers can’t quite pin down the specific inaugural year).

Buttigieg has never experienced the phenomenon of the Good Friday procession before, but the appeal of such a gathering became immediately apparent to him. 

“It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our faith outside the doors of the church with the people of Toronto and visitors to the city,” said Buttigieg. 

“It is also an opportunity for the community of people who immigrated from Italy to share their heritage and traditions.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Good Friday procession routinely attracted crowds of 100,000. Some were parishioners, many were of Italian ancestry with roots in Little Italy, Catholics and other Christians or just people who came to take in the spectacular re-enactment of Christ’s Passion. 

The event supersized from its humble origins from a simple march featuring a priest, altar servers and congregants into a visual cornucopia with hundreds of performers, colourful attire and dramatic reenactments of the key events that composed Christ carrying His Cross to Calvary. The main arterial road of College Street and neighbouring streets would be completely shut down to accommodate the crowds. 

St. Francis parishioners have been hard at work to bring back the splendour for the 2023 procession. Buttigieg said more than 200 volunteers are expected to participate. 

A meeting will be held later this month for each performer to receive instructions about the role they will play in the execution of this production. 

For those who have never attended the Good Friday procession in the past, Buttigieg said there are several reasons they should consider checking it out for the first time on Good Friday.

“The procession really celebrates community. It is a great opportunity to meet with your neighbours in the community who are Roman Catholic,” he said. “Of course, not everyone who will be there will be Catholic, so this (event) is an occasion for them to witness the faith and to think about the faith and their own relationship with the Lord. 

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