Fr. Matt Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northeast Portland, washes the foot of parishioner Ethan Alano during the Holy Thursday Mass April 18. The priest is assisted by Deacon Brian Diehm. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Fr. Matt Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northeast Portland, washes the foot of parishioner Ethan Alano during the Holy Thursday Mass April 18. The priest is assisted by Deacon Brian Diehm. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Catholics around western Oregon last month experienced the stunning story of the Paschal Mystery. Here is a taste of what happened here during Christianity’s holiest week.

A humbling experience

At many parishes on Holy Thursday — the start of the Triduum — one of the most tender, moving gestures in the life of Christ was reenacted.

Priests washed 12 individuals’ feet, calling to mind when Jesus did the same for his apostles in the upper room.

At St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northeast Portland, Judy Daniels was overcome with emotion after participating. The parishioner was a sponsor for a candidate entering the church at the Easter Vigil.

When Father Matt Libra washed her feet, “it was just so humbling,” she said. “This experience — it’s big.”

Though the foot washing is not obligatory for Catholic parishes, Dianna Cooper, a St. Rose parishioner for 25 years and the office manager, feels the reenactment adds to the spiritual depth of the liturgy for the whole congregation.

Perhaps it’s because “the Holy Spirit is just so strong in that moment — when we see all those people up there and the love they experience from having Father take their foot and wash it and knowing the story and purpose and reasoning for it.”

During the night’s homily, Deacon Brian Diehm encouraged the faithful to let Jesus serve them.

“I challenge you to think of a time or a way in which you have tried to serve Jesus all on your own, when you have felt the huge burden of having to do it all yourself. And I’d ask you to give that all back to Jesus in your hearts; ask Jesus to be close enough with you that you will always remember … that we serve Jesus by allowing ourselves to be served by him.”

Experiencing the Passion

Flowing from Holy Thursday was Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the Passion and death of Jesus. Across western Oregon, Catholics entered stripped down churches, sang somber hymns and venerated simple crosses.

At St. Luke Parish in Woodburn, Hispanic faithful carried on the tradition of a realistic enactment of Jesus’ last hours and death. Parishioners dressed as Roman guards, apostles, Sanhedrin officials and the people of Jerusalem. They moved through the tragic story as hundreds of onlookers sat spellbound in gymnasium bleachers.

The guards, holding spears with garden spades as tips, cracked whips and jeered loudly at Jesus, who fell hard three times with a large cross on his shoulders. Realistic recordings of a cock crowing and thunder made the drama realistic.

In the end, the young man dressed as Jesus was affixed to a cross and the fluorescent lights were darkened. The gym went silent.

It’s considered a deep honor to portray the savior and Luis Morales of St. Luke realized that.

“My heart was beating really fast,” said Luis, a 16-year-old junior at North Marion High School who had a beard painted on his smooth face. As his small brothers hugged his legs after the drama, Luis choked up while explaining that he felt emotional pain as he went through the humiliation of crucifixion, even the pretend variety. He feels even closer to Jesus, he said.

Links to modern life

Many Christians apply the story of Good Friday to modern suffering and seek God’s help to create a better world. In downtown Beaverton, 150 people walked to sites for reflection and prayer, singing the Taize chant “Jesus Remember Me” and carrying a 7-foot-tall wooden cross along the path.

“Materialism and excess have impaired perspective in America,” said Anne Hancheck of St. Pius X Parish, speaking to the crowd in a square near the Beaverton Central Library. “We are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer.” Hancheck reminded the crowd that if they make $50,000 per year, they are in the world’s top 1% of earners.

The Gospel calls for giving away what we have and following Jesus, Hancheck concluded.

At the site of the Beaverton Farmers Market, Sister Angelicah Njuguna discussed hunger. Jesus must have been hungry on the way to Calvary, and 750 million people in the world lack nutrition for a healthy active life, she said. Sister Angelicah, a Sister of St. Mary of Kakamunga, described her work in the desert of northern Kenya.

“Every morning I woke up to the harsh reality of more hungry people than I could feed,” she said. “Death glared harshly at me in the faces of children, the elderly, and those with health challenges, who are always hunger’s first victims.” Jesus continues to awaken the world to those who hunger, Sister Angelicah concluded.

Other topics considered during the walk included divisions among people of faith, violence, homelessness, the plight of immigrants, mental illness and climate change. The walk concluded at St. Cecilia Parish.

Faith on the roadway

Almost 225 miles away on the southern Oregon coast, joyful honks came from cars — their drivers eagerly waving — as dozens of Catholics walked along the roads of Coos Bay and North Bend carrying rosaries, a banner and most notably a large wooden cross.

Catholics gathered for an afternoon and evening of Good Friday events. Stations of the Cross was held at Holy Redeemer Parish in North Bend. Then, with rosaries in hand, pilgrims gathered in front of the North Bend church and began the 3.1-mile walk to St. Monica Parish in Coos Bay. The men, women and children on the pilgrimage took turns holding the cross that led the group.

Upon arriving at the church in Coos Bay, worshippers who would be attending the Good Friday service met for a soup dinner in the parish hall. But before the soup was dished out, appetizers were served to help meditation and prayer on the various stages of the Passion — i.e., olives in remembrance of the agony in the garden.

The day ended with the traditional Good Friday service, which Father Robert Wolf, pastor at St. Monica, pointed out has been unchanged for hundreds of years.

‘We can only say yes’

The next evening, Holy Saturday, parishioners gathered around the Easter fire outside small Holy Trinity Church in Bandon — the ocean breeze pushing and pulling the flames into a dance. Father Anthony Ahamefule blessed the fire and lit the Easter candle, then carried it into the dark church.

Each churchgoer’s candle was ignited as they walked into the nave. As the Mass went on, darkness gave way to light showcasing the vibrant Easter flowers behind the altar and delicate tulle entwined with the church’s rafters.

Father Ahamefule spoke joyously on the Lord’s resurrection before baptizing two new members of the church community.

The same evening far north in St. Helens, a cool breeze blew off the lower Columbia River at sundown as the father-son duo of Roberto and Nathan Navarro kindled the Easter fire at St. Frederic Church.

But the church portico warmed up when it filled with worshippers. Father Nicolaus Marandu, pastor, proclaimed prayers over the fire before the quiet crowd processed into the dark church behind the one light — the flame of the Easter candle.

Gretchen Robinson sang the moving exsultet, calling the church to rejoice at the Resurrection. A series of Scripture readings, beginning with creation and moving through the prophets and the story of the Red Sea, spoke of God’s mighty liberation, a fitting prelude to the story of the Resurrection, familiar to us now but shocking to the followers of Jesus and all who heard the tale in the first years of the church.

“We can only say yes to our God,” Father Marandu said during his homily. “He is always with us. Even when we have difficulties in our lives, he is ready to help us.”

Finding the Risen One

The bells of Holy Redeemer Church sounded joyfully and persistently over North Portland on Easter morning as a parish known for its multiracial school and vibrant social services turned to what sustains it all — the Paschal Mystery of death being transformed into life.

Holy Cross Father Chris Brennan, parochial vicar, explained the anxiety and confusion the first disciples felt when they saw the empty tomb and wondered where Jesus’ body was. He compared the feeling to what many Catholics have experienced in the past year, when national and global sex abuse scandals came to light. Father Brennan, who himself seemed emotional over the topic, told the crowd it is easy to wonder where Jesus has gone.

But he reassured listeners that the Lord is closer than we think and can be discovered when we follow the Gospel.

“When we love, in the face of only searing hatred, we find Jesus, the Risen One,” the priest said. “When we turn our enemies into neighbors, we find Jesus, the Risen One. When we forgive those who have only sought our peril and defeat, we find Jesus, the Risen One. When a young couple chooses life and the sacrifices it entails, we find Jesus, the Risen One. When we see the poor as our brother or our sister, embrace their dignity and feed their hunger, we find Jesus, the Risen One. When parents can love their gay child as God loves them, made in his image and likeness, we find Jesus, the Risen One. When addictions no longer grip the hearts and lives of our friends, we find Jesus, the Risen One. When we take a deep breath, we find Jesus, the Risen One.”

Katie Scott, Sarah Wolf, Ed Langlois