There are few places in the world where Easter is taken as seriously as the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa, where the highlight is a spectacular passion play which represents the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Last year two million people attended the meticulously planned event, which sees the man chosen to represent the savior wearing a crown of thorns and carrying a 90kg cross for several hours.
The candidate for the hotly contested role must come from Iztapalapa, be single and have received his first communion. This year, the 25-year-old chemist Erick Eduardo Guzmán had been picked after beating out other finalists.
The Iztapalapa event features 162 actors with speaking parts, 150 musicians and thousands of extras
But organizers recently learned via an anonymous tip-off that Guzmán was, in fact, married. After his marriage certificate emerged, Guzmán was subsequently fired and a new Jesus was chosen.
“I want to apologize to my parents and my family because there were times when I didn’t know how to control some of my actions, including the way I got married seven years ago,” Guzmán told Mexican broadcaster Televisa, as his repentant-looking parents appeared before the camera.
Televisa reported that not even his own family knew he had gotten married in a civil ceremony seven years earlier.
“I wasn’t acting in bad faith: I didn’t know the certificate existed, and I had no intention of harming the reputation of my family, the organizing committee or tradition,” the young man added.
Guzmán says he was assaulted and received threatening messages shortly after being given the role of Jesus in the Easter procession. He has lodged a complaint, which is now being investigated. But he doesn’t believe this excuses his own error. “There is nothing else for it but for me to accept my guilt,” he said.
Omar Arreola, a 27-year-old engineer, has now been chosen for the role but finds himself with just a month to prepare for the demanding task.
The role of Jesus in the passion play involves carrying a 90kg cross for several hours at a stretch
Organizers say they are not concerned by the change of personnel. “When these young men decide they want this role, they don’t do it from one day to the next. They start on a training regime that lasts more than three months, and which sees them eating well and making sure they are physically and spiritually ready,” said Miguel Ángel Morales, president of the organizing committee, adding that Arreola has previously played the role of Saint Peter the Apostle.
There is a lot at stake. The Iztapalapa event features 162 actors with speaking parts and the participation of 150 musicians. In addition, some 2,000 men known as Nazarenes follow Jesus with their own cross, 1,000 women represent the women of Jerusalem and up to 2,000 men of all ages play the role of Romans.
“This is different from other celebrations because here we are saying thank you for a miracle: the end of a cholera epidemic in 1843,” explains Morales, noting that this gives the celebration its spiritual and mystical dimension.
English version by George Mills.