Christian Escobar has been involved, in one form or another, with the annual Passion play at Christ the King Church in Hollywood since he was 4.

From watching his father sew the group’s first costumes, to playing the role of a centurion this year, Escobar has deep ties to the production, now in its 37th year.

For Escobar, the play is about more than just acting. It’s a way for him to mature in his faith, bond with the church community, and evangelize.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve enjoyed being a part of this,” said Escobar, now 42. “It’s something that I have grown to love and appreciate.”

Escobar is among scores of Catholics across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who will appear in Spanish-language Passion plays reenacting Christ’s final hours during Holy Week.

Passion plays emerged as a popular evangelization tool in medieval Europe, and were later brought to the Americas by missionaries, said Father Juan Ochoa, pastor of Christ the King and director of the archdiocese’s Office for Divine Worship.

The plays found fertile ground in Mexico, he said, where Spanish missionaries used them to teach indigenous tribes that human sacrifices were unnecessary because God had already sacrificed his only Son for them.

Today, Passion plays remain popular largely with the archdiocese’s Mexican community, he said, especially among those who can relate to a suffering Jesus.

“It’s one thing to read in the Bible about the passion of Jesus,” he said. “But when you’re there watching, it completely comes alive in a very different way.”

At Christ the King, Comunidad Primera Corintios 13 — an organization that began as a youth group and now engages multiple generations — will present a Passion play depicting the Last Supper through Jesus’ crucifixion.

The production — which will be shown at the parish and at St. Ferdinand Church in San Fernando this year — has been performed at more than 50 locations over the years, said Maria Elena Burgos, who’s been with the group since its infancy.

At St. Emydius Church in Lynwood, about 60 people have been gearing up since December to perform for about 2,500 spectators, said organizer Efrain Alvarez.

The group has performed for 19 consecutive years, Alvarez said, and actors are poised to reenact various Gospels from Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday.

And at St. Marcellinus Church in Commerce, parishioners are getting ready to stage a series of dramatizations on Good Friday just as they’ve done for the last 10 years, said director Luis Carlos Betancourt.

Services will begin with a Via Crucis — or Stations of the Cross — procession in the streets, followed by a rosary, readings, Gospel dramatizations, and veneration of the cross at the church, he said.

Many of those who help stage these annual productions say they’ve seen the theatrical works change the lives — and hearts — of both the actors and the audience.

Miguel Angel Huerta, for example, has played Jesus in Christ the King’s Passion play numerous times since joining the cast in 2017. To prepare for the role, he ensures he’s in a state of grace and prays before the Blessed Sacrament, improving his personal and family life in the process.

“My life completely changed,” he said. “I never thought that I’d be where I am spiritually.”

Guadalupe Ramirez has served as a coordinator for St. Emydius’ Passion play for more than 10 years and said that doing so has deepened her faith, introduced her to new ministries, and brought her a renewed appreciation for Christ’s death and resurrection.

“I have learned so much by being part of this,” she said. “We have a tendency of going to Mass and leaving, but we don’t know what the Church offers after that. It’s not only Mass that the Church is capable of offering us. There’s so much behind that.”

Escobar said he sees the church’s annual play as a way to transmit the Gospel, by showing spectators that Christ is there to love them and save them.

“A lot of times people are crying, they’re relating, the message hits them,” he said. “And that’s one of the best feelings, just knowing that we spread the message.”

For Betancourt, the Via Crucis is also a form of evangelization. Rather than performing Stations of the Cross at the parish, the group stops at various homes, where families read pre-written reflections aloud. Many times, however, they scrap the script when an actor playing a beleaguered Jesus arrives at their doorstep.

“The beautiful part about this,” he said, “is that often when Christ arrives and falls to his feet at their station, it touches their heart. Often, what they had planned to say in their reflection completely changes because they are opening their conscience and their heart. And that is the work of God.”

From Angelus News