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Religious Tradition Highlight For Mexico

In the New York Times story “A Mexican Tradition Runs on Pageantry and Faith,” which was written by Larry Rohter and published April 11, 2009, Rohter describes the weeklong Passion Play that takes place annually in Mexico.

The Passion Play, which is held in the city of Iztapalapa on the outskirts of Mexico City, is a real-life depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Candidates are chosen based on specific requirements that state those who wish to play Jesus must adhere to a “proper state of purity.” This means that no dating, drinking, smoking or partying can take place from the moment they get the role. Candidates must also have the economic means to purchase the costumes they need to wear.

Another requirement that candidates who want to portray Jesus includes the physical ability to withstand the role. The real-life depiction of Jesus in the Play includes being able to take a ritual whipping in the square, the ability to carry a cross weighing more than 200 pounds three miles and up a steep hill where the candidate has to endure a brief but real crucifixion in which they are bound to the cross for about 20 minutes.

I feel that the way this story is written is such a way that it moves beyond racial and cultural differences in American literary depictions of indigenous peoples. At the end of the story, Rohter writes about the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude regarding the play and that since the event is put on by the local community, largely of indigenous descent, rather than the Church, the hierarchy has come to view the pageant as an effective tool for anchoring Mexican Catholics in their religion in the face of a growing Protestant challenge.

The fact that Rohter includes this information appears to be more educational than derogatory or stereotypical. The description of the community as primarily consisting of indigenous peoples and referring to them as “Mexican” Catholics makes me think that any stereotyping might come on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.

Rohter writes a piece that discusses this community’s religious traditions and does not pay much attention to the fact that they are Mexican peoples or that the tradition itself of re-creating a live crucifixion might be perceived as controversial. Instead, he focuses on the tradition and profiles the community’s involvement in the Play, which attracts more than two million people annually. He talks to people who are involves in this year’s Play and some who have been involved in the past. The reader learns what type of preparation and dedication goes in to such an event.

For those who are not religious and who do not understand much regarding Jesus and the crucifixion, this article may be confusing for some. Rohter provides some background detail regarding the Play and when/how it started. However, information regarding certain biblical characters is not provided which may lead to some confusion (if you are not religious, what are the chances you will know who the high priest Caiaphas is?).

The story is informative to me in that I didn’t know such an event existed, nor did I know why it started and what it took to be a part of it. I find it really interesting the amount of dedication and personal sacrifice it takes to play the role of Jesus. Rohter used quotes from those who are participating and have participated in the Play and also profiled Diego Villagrán Villalobos, 18, the boy who would be playing Jesus for this year’s Play. Also, Rohter provides a lot of background data on how the Play formed and its history in Mexico.