WILKES-BARRE — Christians fasted, prayed and attended church services across Luzerne County and around the world Friday as they commemorated the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.
Inside St. Andre Bessette Roman Catholic Church on North Main Street, the Rev. Ken Seegar led a service that focused on the “veneration of the cross,” at which point congregants approached the altar, knelt down and kissed the wood of the towering object.
“It symbolizes our gratitude to God for the gift of salvation, which came to us through Jesus on the cross,” Seegar said. “By venerating the cross, we show our love for God.”
Seegar said he was pleased with the turnout for what he called “very moving ceremonies. I think the people come because they find meaning in what we do. They understand these are the most holy days of the church,” he said, referring to the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday (also called Maundy Thursday), Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Rinaldo Ercolani said he’s been attending Easter season and other services at the church for 10 years, but this year marks his first Easter since his wife, Ruth, passed away last May. The 82-year-old Wilkes-Barre resident said he was attending the service with his daughter, Ruthann Voitek, because “it’s our religion. You’re missing out on something if you don’t go.”
Voitek, 52, of Exeter, said she found the service “beautiful, very touching.”
Ercolani said he was looking forward to “the whole family coming to the house” this weekend. “There’ll be 30 of us,” including his five children and 13 grandchildren, he said proudly.
Mary Kerestes, 32, said she came from Nanticoke to attend the service with her two daughters, niece, nephew, sister and parents.
Holding her 8-month-old, Amelia, as 10-year-old Alexis played with her cousins, Madeline and Taylor, outside the church, Kerestes said she brings her children to the solemn service because she thinks “it’s very important they are raised in the Church and have an understanding of the season.”
Across the street at Holy Assumption of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church, Stephan and Mary Jo Sedon were attending a service with their children, Stephan, 5, Alexander, 3, and Roman, 10 months, and Stephan Sr.’s mother, Suzanne Sedon.
The parents, who travel to the parish from their home in Pittston, also believe it’s important to immerse their young children in the services and traditions of the church, some of which, Mary Jo points out, are different from the ones she grew up with as a Roman Catholic.
For example, instead of kissing a cross, congregants at St. Mary participate in the removal of Jesus’ body from a cross, which are normally considered one icon, and process outside, around and back inside the church, carrying the icon of Christ’s body.
Stephan Sr. says the children acquire some understanding of the significance of the service and the traditions “through explanation and their questioning and us telling them answers.”
“They have a lot of questions,” Mary Jo added. “They’re very interested.”
The Rev. Michael Kerestes, church pastor, said that while the focus of Good Friday is Christ’s death on the cross, his congregation also re-enacts the removal of Christ’s body from the cross, placing it in a tomb and the faithful keeping watch overnight.
“People will stay here ‘til 9 a.m. Saturday, symbolizing keeping vigil at the tomb. It’s a wake — staying awake all night and spending time with each other,” Kerestes said.
“These symbols mean a lot to the people,” he continued. “It’s a ritual symbolism that gives some order to an unordered world — when things happening in the world are difficult and stressful.”