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Mexico's Virtual Catholic Passion Plays Get Creative

Felipe Samaniego officiates at a Roman Catholic Mass, streamed via Facebook from the Santo Tomás Moro church on Palm Sunday, in Monterrey, Mexico.
Medios y Media
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Felipe Samaniego officiates at a Roman Catholic Mass, streamed via Facebook from the Santo Tomás Moro church on Palm Sunday, in Monterrey, Mexico.

Every Good Friday, for the last 176 years, the Iztapalapa neighborhood of Mexico City fills with religious pilgrims, tourists and the curious. In modern times, up to 2 million people crowd the streets to watch one of Latin America's most elaborate reenactments of Christ's crucifixion.

This year though, the whole affair has been moved indoors, and will be streamed live on the Internet and broadcast on national TV, due to Mexico's nationwide COVID-19 shutdown.

Nearly 200 people have died in Mexico from COVID-19 and the country's health officials estimate tens of thousands could be infected with the new coronavirus, although 3,441 cases are confirmed.

Mauricio Luna Reyes, 19, who was selected to portray Jesus this year, says he's no longer upset about the change of venue.

"At first I was sad, but now I feel honored that God picked me for some reason to play this part this year," Luna Reyes told NPR.

Luna Reyes, who is almost 6 feet tall, and met all the requirements of the selection committee — he's single and has no tattoos, piercings or vices — still has to carry the 175-pound cross on his back for several hours during the reenactment.

He insists the stripped-down virtual play will still be a deeply religious experience. After all, he points out, the first reenactment in 1843 took place after the city survived a cholera outbreak. Relieved residents pledged to continue the tradition annually to show their gratitude. With the play continuing during the current pandemic, "The pure essence of the play takes on even more meaning," Luna Reyes said.

Monsignor Carlos Alberto Cardona Rubio feels this year's Holy Week sermons have new meaning, too. Like many clergy around the world, Cardona Rubio uploads to the Internet his mass he now performs at his empty church in the Interlomas neighborhood in Mexico City. He has also been adding a few more videos, for younger viewers stuck at home. With a hand puppet dressed in a white cassock, named Monsi, Cardona Rubio posts short videos for kids.

He urges them to help out their parents, pray for the sick, and not be sad.

Cardona Rubio says he hopes all this time indoors with family will help everyone remember what is really important: "Our humanity and our solidarity, humanity's essence, which no coronavirus can take away from us," he said.

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Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on
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