St. Leo's takes a holy day to the streets of Little Italy

The Baltimore Sun

The bells of St. Leo's started tolling at 4 p.m. as parishioners filed out of the church onto the streets of Little Italy. They had just attended a Good Friday service.

It was up to Frank Cippolloni to get things organized.

"OK, first the cross-bearer, then the angels, then the priests," he said, positioning the principals in St. Leo's Good Friday procession as he waved cars through the intersections and made sure any other traffic was stopped.

The cross, bearing a likeness of the crucified Jesus, had been carried from the church. The angels were young members of the congregation, dressed in white, some with wings.

This Good Friday procession through Little Italy has been held for the better part of a decade. For the second year, the 100 or so people who followed the route stopped for the 14 Stations of the Cross, each marking a spot on Jesus' journey to his Crucifixion and burial.

"What's great about it is that it gets the whole community involved," Cippolloni, 57, said about taking a church ceremony to the streets.

The worshipers followed a horse-drawn carriage that held a likeness of the dead Christ, laid out in burial garments, the flowers of spring surrounding the movable catafalque.

The first station, Christ condemned to death, was placed between 911 and 913 Stiles St., a beautiful facade of sculpted Formstone in the background.

Francis Blattermann spoke through a megaphone, explaining what occurred. "Pontius Pilate condemned Christ to death," he said.

The crowd - men, women, many children, some dressed up, some quite casual, some walking their dogs - read along on printed pages, reciting the appropriate liturgy.

Good Friday begins the three-day Easter weekend in the Christian church with what is essentially is a day of mourning for Jesus, who endured beatings, then was forced to carry a cross to which he would be nailed. It is the day of his death and burial when the hopes of his followers seemed lost - feelings that change completely Easter Sunday, which celebrates Christ's resurrection.

Stations of the Cross in the Catholic ceremony mark not only the sufferings of Christ - the three times he fell under the weight of the cross and the loss of his garments before Crucifixion - but also those moments when help was offered: by Simon, who carried the cross, and by Veronica, who wiped Christ's face. The stations also mark Christ's meeting with his mother.

Blattermann explained that the stations used in Little Italy yesterday were poster-size photographs of those in St. Leo's. In some cases, the details of the events at a station were read by the parishioner whose home was chosen to display the station.

Walking the streets of Little Italy is something of a re-enactment of Jesus' walk through the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Crucifixion on Calvary.

"I was watching that this morning on television," Angela Elliott, a lifelong member of St. Leo's, said of the Good Friday ceremonies in Jerusalem, where the faithful follow a pilgrim's path along the streets, stopping at stations permanently carved into the facades of buildings along what is known as the Via Dolorosa.

"It is so much nicer out here," she said. "In the church, we are just kneeling up and down."

The cool weather cooperated, with brilliant sunshine and a breeze. In many windows were signs praising the Rev. Mike Salerno, the St. Leo's priest who started the procession ceremony before he was removed suddenly last year after an allegation of sexual abuse. The controversy that has caused in the church was not evident yesterday.

As the procession moved down Stiles Street and turned on Albemarle, the mournful bells of the church tolled in the background, competing with the sounds of the city - the scream of sirens, the roar of unmuffled engines, the joyful cries of children playing.

It was at Fawn and High streets that Christ was "nailed" to the cross. Vince Culotta read the details in front of Sabatino's restaurant.

"I think it's a wonderful event," he said as the procession made its way toward Trinity Street. "Anytime you get this many people out in the community, it doesn't matter if it's religious or not, it's a great thing."

michael.hill@baltsun.com

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