Worshipers head into the canyons for Good Friday and Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross – Orange County Register

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For Javier Jimenez, Good Friday is more than just an annual Christian tradition commemorating Jesus Christ’s death and crucifixion.

It’s a reminder, he said, of the day he was inspired to start living a more prayerful life after attending the Via Crucis, a live Stations of the Cross procession reenacting Christ’s journey to the cross.

On Friday morning, Jimenez, 55, returned to the Santiago Retreat Center in Silverado for the Via Crucis just as he has for the past seven years, to contemplate his own faith journey and Christ’s final hours in a peaceful, tranquil environment.

“I didn’t know anything about God back then,” said Jimenez, a parishioner at La Purisima Catholic Church in Orange. “But when they invited me here for the first time it transformed me. My life was a disaster, but here I saw that God touched my heart and since that day my life has changed.”

Jimenez was among 1,500 to 2,000 people who were expected to celebrate Good Friday at the retreat center in various ways this year, from participating in individual and group tours, to learning more about the Shroud of Turin – believed by some to be the burial garment of Jesus Christ – in an on-site exhibit.

The center opens its grounds to the public for free on Good Friday, said Mark McElrath, executive director, as a way to provide people with a quiet place to pray away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

“It’s a different experience,” he said. “At parishes across the world, people are in churches doing the Stations of the Cross or veneration of the cross or having Good Friday services. It’s a very interior experience. What’s going on out here is in God’s natural creation.”

Friday’s group tours kicked off with the Via Crucis in Spanish at 9 a.m., followed by a Way of the Cross Hike in English at 1 p.m.

Jimenez joined a few hundred participants of all ages in completing the Via Crucis, walking uphill for more than an hour in the morning sun while stopping at 14 different stations marked by large, wooden crosses. At each station, participants recited prayers and listened to reflections based on the story of Jesus’ journey, from his initial condemnation to death to being laid in a tomb.

Some participants said they attended the procession because it’s become an annual tradition. Others said seeing a physical reenactment of Christ’s last days helps them better understand his suffering. Still others brought their children to the Via Crucis as a way to pass their faith traditions on to a new generation.

For Lupe Martinez, a parishioner at La Purisima Catholic Church in Orange, the Via Crucis provides an opportunity for her to reflect on her life, her spiritual shortcomings, and on how she can make changes to become a better person, she said.

“It allows me to see how I also crucify him with my sins, with my actions,” said Martinez, who’s attended for the last 10 years. “I’m here to ask for forgiveness.”

For Alba Ramiro, a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra, the reenactments in an outdoor setting help bring Christ’s story to life, she said.

“Sometimes when one attends the Via Crucis in a church, it doesn’t capture the reality of what was really happening in those days,” she said. “Here, one can walk and pray in community and one can experience those important moments in Christ’s passion. One can look around and say, ‘Wow, he had to walk like this?’ ‘He had to carry this?’ He did it, and he did it for us.”

For Blanca Rosete – who is originally from Veracruz, Mexico and now a parishioner at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Tustin – attending the Via Crucis is a way for her to reflect on her past, she said, while also looking toward her family’s future.

Rosete said she developed a love for the Via Crucis while partaking in them as a child, and she brought her 6-year-old daughter to this year’s gathering to share the tradition with her.

“We come here because we want to carry on our traditions even though we are not in our countries of origin,” she said. “It allows us to recall a little bit how we celebrated our faith in our hometowns.”

Rosete said she hopes her daughter follows in her footsteps and attends the Via Crucis for years to come.

“I like that my daughter is following the same tradition that I had when I was a little girl,” she added. “It makes me very happy.”

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