Last year I spent Holy Week in a mountain city in central Peru called Huanuco, where I was living and volunteering at a shelter for women and children. The city loved to celebrate anniversaries and holidays all year round, but Holy Week was a week unlike any other. Actors reenacted Biblical scenes all over the city. I would walk past Jesus and Pontius Pilot in the market, Judas reenacted his suicide from a tree in the plaza, and on Good Friday everyone went out to an arena in the countryside to watch Jesus beaten and crucified. I found the experience both jarring and at times bizarre.
On Good Friday as my host family and I prepared to go out to the countryside arena, one of my host sisters yelled out, “Hurry up! We are going to miss the crucifixion.” I couldn’t help but feel that someone’s sister yelled this out to her family before going to the actual crucifixion of Christ. Finally, my host mom, 6 host sisters along with their husbands and small children, and I left the house bringing with us sunscreen, hats, a fried fish lunch with potatoes and soda, and blankets to sit on. We took a small, crowded bus out to the countryside then walked for about 20 minutes to get to the arena. We stopped to get popsicle on the way. The whole event felt like a casual family outing, until we arrived to the arena and saw it was packed with hundreds of shouting people. One of my host sisters and I climbed a tree, Zacchaeus style, in order to see what was going on with Jesus. And what we saw was shocking. Men dressed as Roman soldiers were actually whipping the man reenacting Jesus as intense music filled the space. You could see him bleeding even from up in the tree. The entire crowd was transfixed on the scene playing out before us. After about 20 minutes the guards dragged Jesus out of the arena and a few minutes later he passed right in front of us carrying his large, wooden cross up to a nearby hill where they would reenact the crucifixion. After watching the man beaten and whipped I was grateful when my host family decided to have a picnic lunch instead of going up to watch the crucifixion.
Much of my YAV year focused on leaving my comfort zone in order to grow and learn, and Holy Week was no exception. Watching a reenactment of Christ being whipped made it clear that his arrest, trail, and crucifixion were brutal, uncomfortable, and unjust. I am so glad that the story does not end there. The resurrection brings me hope that Christ intends for justice in this world.
Mary Kate Bevel was a 2013-2014 YAV in Peru. She currently lives in Dallas, TX where she works as a volunteer coordinator for a homeless resource center and shelter. In the fall she will be starting a masters program in social work at the University of Texas in Austin. Instagram