Romualdo Alvarado has a passion, a deep desire to play the role of Jesus Christ.
For the past twelve years, tens of thousands have watched and walked with Alvarado, who portrays Jesus in the final moments of his life before his crucifixion. Via Crucis, The Way of the Cross, takes place at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Maryville Campus in Des Plaines.
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Alvarado, a Hoffman Estates resident and construction worker, immerses himself in the Gospel to prepare for the annual Good Friday event.
"People think that when we love Jesus, or God, he promises us a happy life. But you find out that Jesus doesn't promise you a happy life here, but over there," Alvarado says, smiling and pointing up toward the sky.
Alvarado says there are differences between his performances from year to year, like the time in 2004 when he forgot to shape and cut the crown of thorns before he gently placed it upon his head.
"But then, when they gave me the cross to carry, it crashed into the side of my head, I said, 'Oh my God, what am I going to do, this pain is unbelievable'."
To compound his injuries, the Roman soldiers began hitting Alvarado hard on the side of his head, inflicting more suffering by driving thorns deeper into his scalp.
"I felt a little bit like Jesus, just a little bit," he says, "The pain was terrible, I just wanted to quit and say this is it, and he just kept hitting me."
Then Alvarado saw the cross in the distance and said, "The cross, the cross, this is my salvation. I've got to get to the cross, and then this soldier won't be hitting me anymore."
Via Crucis is rooted deep in the Catholic and Hispanic religious traditions, according to Father Marco Mercado at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
"We come to walk with him, to suffer with him and at the same time to ask forgiveness for our sins, which is the main reason why he had to go through the passion and suffering," Mercado says, "It's very deep into the community. It's not just coming to see a show, it's coming really to participate spiritually."
Alvarado said it's exactly that desire that brings him back each Easter season to suffer as Christ did.
"Now, I'm ready for the cross. I love the cross," he says, "I don't follow Jesus for the milk or the bread. I follow Jesus because he promised me eternal life. I believe in his words, that's why I follow him."