Parishioners dressed as Roman soldiers yelled “Coward!” and “Walk!” in Spanish as a man portraying Jesus struggled to carry a large wooden cross along Carleton Avenue in Central Islip during a Good Friday procession.
The outdoor Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, at St. John of God Roman Catholic Church was one of several that Latino parishes on Long Island held to mark the most solemn day of the year for Christians, recognizing the day Jesus was crucified some 2,000 years ago.
The dramatization recalled Jesus’ condemnation to death during the administration of Pontius Pilate, his journey to Calvary carrying the cross, and finally his crucifixion and death.
“Crucify him!” parishioners acting as the heckling crowd shouted when the man playing Pontius Pilate asked what should be done with Jesus.
Thousands of other Christians in Nassau and Suffolk attended similar observances or other types of prayer services on Friday.
“It’s a sacred day for us,” said Astrid Hermida, 47, a native of Colombia who attended the Central Islip procession. “You remember what he suffered for us.”
Christians believe that on the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead — the event observed and celebrated on Easter Sunday and the most important day on the Christian calendar.
The Rev. Chris Nowak, pastor of St. John of God, said the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that “day by day, month by month, our world and hopefully our lives are getting better, moving forward.”
For many Latino Catholics, Good Friday is a bigger focus than Easter, he said.
“A lot of Latino countries still emphasize more the death of our Lord as opposed to the resurrection, probably joining their own suffering from their countries and the poverty to Christ on the cross,” Nowak said. “They identify more with the crucified Christ than the risen Christ.”
He said a particular pall had fallen over Good Friday with the discovery this week of four bodies in a Central Islip park, apparently the victims of gang violence, according to Suffolk police.
That was “looming” over the whole observance, he said.
Nassau County police said in a statement that recent terror attacks in London, Russia and Sweden have prompted them to intensify patrols “at places of worship as well as at all governmental buildings, mass transit, critical infrastructure, and at significant public events.”
Suffolk police did not respond to a question Friday about whether they had taken extra security steps at places of worship.