With Catholicism the religion of choice in East Timor, you can expect a bit of a show over the Easter period. From streets lined with people watching the Palm Sunday processions to people missing work to receive the ash cross on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday- yep, celebrating Easter in East Timor is b-i-g and surprisingly, there isn’t a chocolate bunny in sight (well not yet anyway).I went to a Catholic primary and high school and having played both Mary in our annual Christmas Play and Veronica (the woman who wipes Jesus face) in the Stations of the Cross, I feel pretty ‘experienced’ in how important dates in the Catholic calendar should be celebrated. But, I HAVE NEVER
seen or been moved as much as I was when watching the Stations of the Cross in Dili last year.
It was achingly beautiful.
Stations of the Cross
We arrive at the church to learn that the Good Friday mass is behind schedule. With a few thousand other people, we wait outside as the final touches were added to the Roman soldiers’ costumes and the microphones are tested ‘koko koko’ (test test).
‘Why weren’t we ready to begin?’ somebody (probably a foreigner) asks.
Well, you see, the answer is: Jesus hasn’t arrived yet! How very East Timor… So we wait and admire the incredibly resourceful costumes (see below: those helmets are made out of soccer balls)
Roman soldier’s preparing
And then Jesus arrived and it was literally all stations go!As we moved through each section of the performance it didn’t take long to realise that they couldn’t have picked a more perfect Jesus. He was well worth the wait. With each disappointment on his journey, Jesus’ face was awash in emotion. Exactly as you’d expect it to be. An East Timorese friend sensing my appreciation of his performance told me that:
“They always get the same guy to play Jesus.”
Jesus receiving his sentence
The outdoor roving performance ran for well over two hours. The most comprehensive Stations of the Cross I’d ever seen. Not only were the costumes, props and sets fantastic (as you can see in the photos) but they had everything from artificial sound-scapes to compliment the scenes to actors partaking in actual whipping. Those East Timorese Catholics sure know how to put on a show!
Jesus calling to God on the cross
But what surprised me most about the performance was the audiences’ reverence, no one laughed in any of the scenes. This might not sound like a big deal, but I’ve never been to a performance in East Timor where the audience hasn’t laughed. In a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliette’ I saw last year, the audience erupted in laughter as Juliette stabbed herself to death. It shouldn’t have been funny, it wasn’t funny. In a recent show about domestic violence, the audience were in hysterics when the husband was attacking his wife. Again, not really that funny.But today was different, when Jesus died, women wept in the crowd.
Jesus head bowed, dying.
It was an incredible and moving performance.If you are in East Timor over the Easter break make sure you head to a local church to see one of the Easter services, just don’t believe anyone when they tell you what time it starts, things in East Timor always run late.