Richard Bie, CEO of Catholic cemeteries, stands by one of...

Richard Bie, CEO of Catholic cemeteries, stands by one of the Stations of the Cross at Holy Rood Cemetery on Thursday, March 17, 2022 in Westbury. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Catholic Church on Long Island is bringing back a cherished Holy Week ritual for the first time in three years after the pandemic shut it down.

Good Friday live street processions with hundreds of people marking the Stations of the Cross will take place at several parishes, and at a major Catholic cemetery.

Other parishes are holding smaller, indoor Stations of the Cross devotions every Friday during Lent, one of the holiest periods of the year in Christianity. Lent started on Ash Wednesday, March 2.

Good Friday commemorates Jesus's final day when he was crucified. It is followed by Easter Sunday, when the faithful believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury will bring back its live Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, April 15, said Richard Bie, CEO of Catholic Cemeteries of Long Island. The event typically attracts about 400 people.

"It’s something that people look forward to every year," he said. "We’re delighted to really put it back in play this year."

Stations of the Cross in cemetery

The ritual will take place starting at noon, with the crowd processing to 14 stations that depict Jesus’ final day. Each station has a large monument to mark Jesus’ journey.

The stations include the scenes of his betrayal by Judas and his condemnation to death, as well as Jesus carrying the cross, getting heckled by the crowd, being crucified and then placed in the tomb.

Holy Rood Cemetery will again hold live Stations of the Cross at...

Holy Rood Cemetery will again hold live Stations of the Cross at noon on April 15, Good Friday. Pictured is a station on Thursday at the cemetery in Westbury. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Deacons at the cemetery will lead the crowd as they make their way along the 1 ½ mile route

Bie says it is a particularly powerful ritual since some participants will pass by the graves of their own relatives.

Some of those graves belong to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Others died of COVID-19.

"To see 400 people walking around the cemetery, it’s very special," said John F. Kennedy, CFO Catholic Cemeteries of Long Island. "People get a lot of comfort out of it."

The cemetery was particularly hard hit during the pandemic, with the number of burials each day two or three times the norm, Bie said.

"The pandemic hit everyone very hard," he said, though the cemetery "tried to maintain a certain sense of normalcy throughout the pandemic" by allowing families as much as possible to gather for burials.

Last live stations in 2019

At St. John of God Roman Catholic Church in Central Islip, church leaders hope to resume their popular live Stations of the Cross, which typically also attracts several hundred people, said the Rev. Daniel Rivera, pastor of the church.

The parish last celebrated the Stations of the Cross in 2019.

"The beauty about these celebrations is that it makes you really go back to the roots when Jesus died on the cross," Rivera said. "People really feel identified with that."

He says "it’s something that people are looking forward to, to bring back those traditions that enrich the faith and the life of the parish … It is so helpful to the spiritual growth, those sacred days."

Rivera said the parish had also been bringing back other events that had been suspended due to the pandemic. In December, it held an Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration, including a concert honoring Mary, a midnight Mass, and a social gathering with refreshments.

In October, instead of Columbus Day, the parish celebrated Día de la Raza (Day of the Race), which focuses on America's indigenous population.

Rivera said his parish and others brought back altar servers last year when restrictions were eased, though he had seen many new volunteers.

After enduring restrictions and mask wearing for months, "it seems like they are very excited to serve," Rivera said.

Procession in streets

Another major live Stations of the Cross that processes through the streets also will be back at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station after a three-year absence.

The faithful will process to the homes of various parishioners as they mark each station, and then return to the church for concluding rites, said the Rev. Robert Smith, pastor of the parish.

Parishioners "are certainly enthusiastic and excited about our being able to return to this well-loved part of our Holy Days," Smith said.

Other denominations also are bringing back the tradition.

At Trinity-St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hewlett, the pastor, the Rev. Chris Ballard, said he organized a trip to Jerusalem four years ago during which congregants along with their relatives and friends walked the actual route Jesus took on Good Friday.

Now, for the first time in three years, they have a chance to mark the Stations of the Cross at their church in Hewlett, he said. They are observing the Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent.

"We remember those places and we remember what that was like," Ballard said. "It’s really quite profound."

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