EAST CHICAGO — Roman soldiers walked the streets of this city Friday, accompanying a falsely accused man to his grisly execution on a cross.

The occasion was Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Parish’s 40th annual Via Crucis viviente, or Living Way of the Cross.

The Via Crucis is a re-enactment of Jesus’ final hours and the journey to Calvary for his crucifixion, as reflected in the Stations of the Cross.

This tradition focuses on the suffering of Jesus and offers an opportunity for those in the procession to bring their own sufferings to the foot of the cross as they are reminded of Jesus’ pain.

“This is the heart of our salvation, that Jesus died for us on the cross,” said Erica Jimenez, a member of the Via Crucis committee. “It brings to life Jesus’ steps to the cross on Calvary.”

“We know that salvation comes from the cross,” lector Olga Martinez said at the opening of the Good Friday liturgy leading to the outdoor procession. “We accompany Jesus in his death that demonstrates his love for us.”

Christians believe in Jesus’ divinity, that he died on a cross and then rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.

The Via Crucis is celebrated in Latin America and elsewhere, including Spain, Italy and the Philippines. In the U.S., areas with large Hispanic immigrant populations have found parish support to continue this tradition. Some parishes make the Via Crucis a bilingual religious observance.

“It’s a tradition,” said Frank Plaza, of Portage, who provided music for the Good Friday observance. “It’s a build-up to Easter, a remembrance of why we have Easter. Without this day, there’d be no Easter.”

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David Madriz, who has portrayed Jesus five times in the Via Crucis, said the occasion is “very emotional” for him. “This shows what Jesus died for, his sacrifice,” Madriz said. “It’s also a revelation of faith, truth and love.”

An East Chicago resident and OLG parishioner, Madriz said portraying Jesus is a “way of getting to know Jesus, be a better person and follow his example.”

According to the Diocese of Gary’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, other area parishes observing a Via Crucis included St. Mary, also in East Chicago; St. Paul, Valparaiso; St. Francis Xavier, Lake Station; and St. John Bosco, Hammond.

Other faiths also participate, as the Lutheran community in Valparaiso has held a Good Friday procession through the streets.

In his homily, the Rev. Carlos Martinez, OLG pastor, said, “Jesus has loved us to the extreme. He gave his life for us, for you. … You are worth all the blood of Jesus. He poured it all out for us.”

The pastor added, “If Jesus died for me, I have to remember to live for him, to die from everything that separates me from him.”

Dimas Corral of East Chicago, an OLG parishioner, played the lead centurion and has participated in the Via Crucis since 2011. For Corral, the Via Crucis is “what I feel — the feeling I get any time I participate. We do it for God.”

Seeing the Via Crucis as a form of evangelization, Corral noted, “Doing this is how I get closer to the church. By participating, it does change my life. Maybe it can help others.”

Temperatures in the 40s did not keep a crowd from following the procession. Zenaida Rodriguez, a parishioner from East Chicago, noted, “Today is a reminder of what Jesus did for us. He gave his life for us. It’s a very emotional day today.”

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