By Rose Brennan
BRIDGEPORT—In the Diocese of Bridgeport, the Lenten season opened and closed with a public display of the Catholic faith. On Ash Wednesday, the faithful from around the globe wore ashes on their heads to herald the beginning of Lent. And on Good Friday, some of them took to the streets in a procession commemorating the Stations of the Cross.
This was the first time the procession had been held since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. And its return was certainly triumphant, as hordes of the faithful trekked one-and-a-half miles from St. Mary Parish on Sherman Street to Our Lady of Fatima Parish on Huntington Road.
According to Father Rolando Torres, pastor at St. Mary’s, holding a public display of witness to Christ’s death is extremely important, especially on a day commemorating his death that would redeem humanity.
“We give them the message clearly that it’s a day for Christ,” he said. “Good Friday is not a regular day; it’s the day when Christ gave us his life for our salvation. So whenever they see us walking the street in the procession, that’ll help a lot of people—young people, especially—to understand that this is Good Friday. And this is a day that you should take a little bit of time to go to church.”
The history of the Good Friday procession in Bridgeport is an interesting one. Father Torres became pastor of St. Mary’s in 2015, and similar to countless other parishes, the Stations of the Cross was a popular devotion during the season of Lent. He hosted a parish-specific Stations of the Cross devotion on Good Friday the following year which was well-received, but also planted an idea in his head.
“It gave me a reason to understand that it was necessary to do something bigger,” Father Torres said. “At that time, I was working with a few pastors in the Bridgeport area, and I said in a meeting with a few of them, ‘Don’t you think we could do something bigger? Together, we do the Stations on Good Friday in the street, and together we do something nicer and something bigger.’”
In addition to St. Mary’s, three other Bridgeport parishes signed on for the first Good Friday procession: Our Lady of Fatima, St. Charles Borromeo on Ogden Street and St. Michael the Archangel on Pulaski Street. These original four parishes are the landmarks of the now-annual procession, which passes each church on the mile-and-a-half walk.
While Father Torres would say the original procession in 2017 was successful, it wasn’t without its hiccups.
“We did everything in one flatbed (truck): the music, the actors, the whole thing in one truck. And it was horrible,” Father Torres laughed. “The cables were in the middle, and one of the actors tripped on the cables.”
Nevertheless, more than 2,000 people turned out for the 2017 procession—which was especially impressive because it was raining—and it only grew from year to year, with more parishes signing on to participate. And thankfully, the following year, Father Torres was able to get two flatbed trucks for the procession’s equipment and actors.
But the coronavirus pandemic caused the event’s momentum to grind to a halt. The virus’ original onset occurred just after Ash Wednesday, making large public gatherings like the procession impossible. And for three years, the city of Bridgeport was without a Good Friday procession.
Thankfully, in 2023, the Bridgeport Good Friday procession could come back. And it came back in a bigger-than-ever way, with a total of nine of Bridgeport’s parishes participating. In addition to the four original parishes, The Cathedral Parish, St. Andrew, St. Ann, St. George and St. Peter were added to the list for the procession’s triumphant return.
“We wanted to do it in the right way,” Father Torres said. “We are not doing something perfect or majestic. We’re just trying to put it in the minds of not only Catholics, but all Christians, that Good Friday is a day for the Lord.”
According to Father Torres, one of the immediate fruits of the procession is that it inspires many of the faithful to attend Passion services later that day to further commemorate Christ’s death and impending resurrection.
“When we finish at Our Lady of Fatima, we tell all the people, ‘We are expecting you to go today to the service at 3 pm today, because it is the service of the Passion of the Lord,’” he said. “And most of the people go to their parishes” for that service.
But it’s not just the people who participate in the procession that are impacted by it. Father Torres noted he often observes something beautiful happening when the procession makes its way down Bridgeport’s East Main Street.
“When we start walking on East Main, and people start to see us with the cross, with the sound, with the music, with everything that we do, people close their stores and walk with us,” Father Torres said. “They realize, ‘Why do I have my store open on Good Friday?’ So they close their stores and start walking with us. We have (seen) a lot of witnesses and testimonies of faith because they see that we are really giving time to the Lord.”