(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
BENTON -- They say there is no better way to understand something than to walk a mile in another's shoes.
And as Christians around the world prepare to begin Holy Week, students at St. Denis Catholic School in Benton are doing just that to understand what Jesus' journey to the cross was like. This Friday, they'll pray the stations of the cross -- the 14 stops Jesus makes on the way to his crucifixion -- a bit differently than other Fridays during Lent, with older students taking on roles and acting out scenes of what Christ endured.
"This Friday it will be more alive -- it's just a wonderful thing to see," said Vera Hennemann, seventh and eighth grade teacher at the school.
"It's like it really happens," seventh grade student Veronica Moore said of what is dubbed as the "Living Stations." She plays the role of Veronica, the woman who wipes the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. According to the Bible, Jesus left an image of his face on Veronica's veil.
Hunter Urhahn, an eighth-grade student who portrays Nicodemus, the man who takes Jesus down from the cross then places Christ in the tomb, agreed.
"I think (performing) makes it more real because there's more movement," said Hunter. "Instead of just saying the prayers, we're actually doing something."
This will be the fourth year students at the school have performed the stations the Friday before Holy Week, said Hennemann. This year, grades six through eight are involved, since the script involves a minimum of 18 students.
"They really put a lot into it," she said. "And every year, it seems like they get better."
She and fellow teacher Pat Moore came up with the idea from the neighboring St. Lawrence parish in New Hamburg, where adults perform the living stations every other year. With some urging from family and friends from that church, the two decided to try it out with the students.
And the response was terrific.
"We just got compliment after compliment," said Hennemann. "People said they didn't know the kids could perform this way."
And they get into character, learning just how people dressed during the time of Christ's crucifixion more than 2,000 years ago. Students wear sandals and robes, while girls wear veils.
The first two years, costumes were borrowed from St. Lawrence, said Hennemann. But once it became evident the living stations would be a lasting event at the school, parents volunteered to make more child-friendly costumes last year. "The parents were just really enthused," she said.
That enthusiasm is evident by the size of the crowd for the living stations. Hennemann estimated around 75 parents, parishioners and members of the community show up to be a part of the 45-minute service, in addition to the school's entire student body.
"We have quite a few people that come down from the court house during their lunch break," she said. Those who come can follow along and also have a few parts in the service.
The result of the live action is sometimes tears, but always a dead silence at the end.
For the students, one of the most difficult parts isn't memorizing the short paragraph that accompanies their role -- it's getting into character.
"You've got to have a lot of feeling in it," said Veronica.
Hennemann said she urges the students to make it real and become a part of their character.
"A lot of (the speaking parts) end with a question, like 'Do you believe, too?'" she said. "The students need to say that with expression."
Although younger students aren't directly involved, Hennemann said they learn a lot from the living stations and it drives home the meaning of Easter to them.
And while they grow in faith, they get to look forward to the day that they are the ones to walk that mile in Jesus' shoes.
What: St. Denis students perform the "Living Stations"
When: 1 p.m. Friday
Where: St. Denis Catholic Church, 135 N. Winchester in Benton
The performance is free and open to the public