St. Leo's church leads Way of the Cross procession in Little Italy

Bob Zelkoski, senior altar server at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church carries a cross and leads the Good Friday procession from the church to 14 outdoor Stations of the Cross in Little Italy.

St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church continued the tradition of holding its Good Friday Way of the Cross celebration throughout Little Italy.

Francene Bradford has attended the procession since it began in 2002. The Eastwood resident, who grew up in Little Italy, returns to St. Leo's for the more momentous Christian holidays.


"It's a staple for Easter," she said. "We have to do this, otherwise you don't get dessert."

About 200 people participated in the Good Friday observance, in which Christians commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. After a 90-minute afternoon service, church leaders led parishioners around the community as a remembrance of the path Christ traveled, bearing a cross, to his crucifixion.


The somber outdoor ritual included stops at the 14 Stations of the Cross, which were memorialized at nearby homes and restaurants. At each stop, a resident or employee led the group in a short prayer recognizing a specific part of the journey, such as Christ's falling along the way, his being nailed to the cross and, finally, his death.

The Rev. Sal Furnari, who has been the pastor at St. Leo's for the past six years, said observing the Stations serves as a good reminder of the core of the Roman Catholic faith.

"The Way of the Cross is very much part of the tradition and culture of this community," he said. "It shows that we can turn that negative part of life into something positive."

The tradition began soon after a former pastor at the church witnessed a similar event when visiting Italy, said Frank Cippolloni, a church leader. Cippolloni, who is Bradford's brother, is now a Belcamp resident but still an active member of St. Leo's.

"It's truly been a privilege to see all this religious activity happening here after all these years," he said.

At Friday's event, the honor guard of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization, traveled in the procession with a replica of Christ on a rolling bed. In years past, the figure was transported by horse and carriage.

The first horse to join the procession 12 years ago was named Crab Cake.

"We got a little kick out of that," said event organizer Francis Blattermann, because Catholics are expected to abstain from all meat products on Fridays in Lent, but seafood is allowed.


Despite changes over the years, the Way of the Cross ceremony has grown in popularity, Blattermann said.

"This is a close-knit community to begin with, and the church is at the center of it," he said.