Passion Play a First for Genoa Parish
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 12, 2018
GENOA—Most of us should be able to imagine ourselves somewhere in Jesus’ passion, perhaps as the Roman soldiers who were doing their job and along came Jesus. 
Michael Barkey and Jerry Mlodzianowski played two of 12 Roman soldiers in this year’s production of “The Mystery of the Passion of Christ.”
“I’m the one putting in the nails, crucifying Jesus,” Mlodzianowski says. Doing so “started hard, but I’m glad I did it ... It feels weird, especially when my family is there, and I have to be someone else.”
Barkey agrees. “By the end of the performance, I’m feeling pretty sad,” he says. “It is pretty humbling ... at the end of the day, I feel I really did beat Christ.”
Even so, he says, “it is a great experience. It really makes you think.”
The almost two hour production includes parts from all four Gospels. It was written, and has been directed since 1995 in Canada and in the Rockford Diocese, by Father Zdzislaw Francis Wawryszuk who became pastor of St. Catherine of Genoa Parish in Genoa last June.
As happened in Father Francis’ other parishes, several St. Catherine parishioners stepped forward to volunteer to provide the live passion play free of charge to parishioners and guests alike. The pews were filled on Good Friday, as they had been during two productions offered on Palm Sunday weekend. This was the first year the play was offered in the Fox Valley.
The around 40 actors were accompanied by a choir of eight women who sang between scenes, acapella-style. Others worked behind the scenes on publicity and souvenirs. Father Francis provided the props and much of the adjustable costuming from his past productions. 
Each rehearsal began with prayer, announced the narrator, Jim Kush, at the Good Friday production. He then prayed that prayer, asking God’s blessing on the endeavor.
The play began with the scene from the Last Supper and moved through familiar Gospel accounts to a very effective crucifixion scene that somehow transcended the modern church of St. Catherine’s. 
Although we might be able to picture ourselves as soldiers or apostles, odds are that few people imagine themselves in the role of Jesus. Diaconate candidate Christopher Olson somehow managed to do just that, portraying Jesus genuinely, without too much or too little dramatic flair. 
Olson and his wife, Jan, have been parishioners at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Hampshire for 15 years. Jan, director of religious education at her parish, notes that her husband never acted before. He was recruited by his friend, Father Francis, for the role.
“He was practicing at home and at work as well,” she says of his six weeks of preparation. “He was giving everybody his lines.”
In all of her husband’s contributions to the play, she says simply, “It really was real. I knew it had to be the Holy Spirit.”
For his part, Chris admits that “my eyebrows went up” when he saw the script filled with lines that were his to memorize and speak. 
Father Francis told us early on, “you have an advantage over regular actors,” he recalls. “If we are meditating on the Passion, we will feel it. It’s not pretending” like actors would do.
Even so, it was, he says, an “intimidating” role, in part because “everyone has a favorite image of Jesus in mind (and) I knew I wasn’t going to match that ... I just put my trust in the Lord (and decided that) He will portray himself. They’re going to see what he wants to show them. It seemed to work.”
He had to trust God even more when he learned that he would sing a song – by himself, without musical accompaniment. “I would never, ever put myself out there as a singer,” he says, adding a bit wryly that “the Lord is always asking you to get out of your comfort zone.” 
Agreeing to God’s requests to stretch into something new is something Chris highly recommends. He points to “one of the best parts of Catholicism” that is never discovered by those who do not get involved in their church communities: “You cross paths and meet people that you would never have met otherwise,” he says. “I had one person say “Hey, it’s a small world, and I said ‘It’s a big family.’ I think most people underestimate that ...
“I’m so thankful I said yes ... It was another encounter with Christ, and (with) every encounter with Christ, the better off we are.  It’s a great thing.”
One moment of the play stands out for him. “The most surreal experience was when they lifted me up on the cross,” he says. “Even in the rehearsals it was just overwhelming.”
Each time he says that he thought, “Jesus did this for real. I’m just standing in this role ... it’s just overwhelming to think about.”
The entire experience was, Chris concludes, “quite an honor and a privilege.”