They know it’s not really Jesus, but that doesn’t stop them.
Hands reach out from the crowd, clamouring to touch the face of the Christ figure; mobile phones to capture a realistic and harrowing depiction of the Saviour’s final moments.
Upwards of 10,000 people, from far and wide, are expected to witness the Good Friday Passion Play at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, Penrose Park – an event now in its 25th year. A cast and crew of around 130 volunteers – actors, stage managers and extras – will attempt to bring the saving death of Christ to life in a way that stirs contemplation, reverence and gratitude, all in a serene bushland setting.
In his third time at the helm of the production, director Sebastian Michalak says he is always amazed to hear of the impact the play has on audience and crew members alike, in the days and weeks that follow.
“Every year at this time, most people have a spiritual challenge they need to grow in,” Sebastian said, speaking to The Catholic Weekly in the lead-up to a second major rehearsal.
“You look back and hear about the good stories: people who haven’t been to church in a while who say ‘I’m going to go back to Mass’, and people who are not Christian (who have an experience of God).
“It is an event that definitely opens doors and brings communities together,” he said, adding that last year he was happy to welcome a few of his Pentecostal and Anglican friends.
Sydney man Nathaniel Tedesco will portray Christ for the fifth time at the event, and will spend a period in isolation to prepare mentally and spiritually for the role, praying the rosary in contemplation.
The Passion Play begins at 10am on Good Friday, 25 March, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, Penrose Park, 120 Hanging Rock Road, Sutton Forest.
Penrose Park is looked after by the Pauline Fathers, who facilitate a range of monthly devotions.