Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photos

“Father forgive them for they know not what they do” said Jesus looking to the heavens after being crucified.

Passion is evident everywhere in the annual “Death of the Messiah” play.  

From every stitch in the detailed hand-made costumes, to the many hours spent by dedicated volunteer cast and crew members to support a performance that showcases the ultimate act of passion in Christian faith.  

“It’s bringing scripture to life is what it is,” said Therese Hidalgo, who has been directing the play since 2003. “It’s reminding people that this is just your temporary home, and what the passion of Christ did is what set us all free to go to our eternal home.” 

The Passion Play portrays the final days of Jesus as well as his crucifixion and resurrection. It’s performed every year in Belen, Los Lunas and Albuquerque during Easter season by Companions of Jesus Christ of New Mexico — a non-denominational Christian theater troupe.  

“Death of the Messiah” is made up of dozens of cast and crew members that Hidalgo said throughout the years has consisted of people ranging from eight months to 88 years old.  

Lady Claudia, played by Maggie Montoya, tells her husband, Pontius Pilate, to take heed after having a dream about Jesus’ death.

The passion play depicts Jesus being forced to carry his cross up Mount Calvary on the day of his execution. 

The story is brought to life through eye-catching attire, dramatic production value and moving performances from local community members. The group has performed in all kinds of settings across the state, from lavish venues to church halls and gyms, to spread the message of Christ.  

Hidalgo said the play has been transformational for both audience members and cast and crew alike over the years, and it has become a treasured tradition for many. 

Chris Hidalgo, Therese’s son who is playing Jesus for the first time this year, has been involved in the play for around 20 years and said he and his family look forward to it every Easter season. He said the most rewarding part is the audience’s reactions.  

“We perform at several different places and each place has its own type of crowd,” said Chris. “It really touches people, you can see it. People come up and thank you, people are in tears, so it’s a real feeling of fulfillment.” 

Jesus’ head drops as death claims his mortal body while his mother, Mary, and onlookers weep in despair. 

Judas, played by Vincent Otero, is bribed by the High Priests to betray Jesus. 

Chris said it’s nice to see people so appreciative of it even if there are mistakes made or things that don’t go exactly as planned.   

“There’s always going to be stuff like that, but at the end of the performance the reaction of the crowd is what keeps us coming back,” he said. “It’s really cool to share that with people and give them the experience.” 

It’s not only the audience who is moved by the performance though, said Hidalgo, but the cast and crew as well, which is what motivates her to continue directing the passion play year after year.  

“It’s an opportunity for people to heal inside,” she said. “I’ve had people who would have never thought they’d ever be in a play. It’s a lot of work, but when I see what happens to people who come and participate, and when I hear the stories, I really believe that those people are called at the perfect time to come and be a part of it.” 

Jesus, played by Chris Hidalgo, confronts Judas at the last supper. 

Mary recites a prayer before the last supper with Jesus and his disciples. 

The main role of Jesus is especially one that Hidalgo said has been particularly transformative to people who have taken on the role because it’s not only a mental challenge, but an emotional one as well.  

“I really feel in order to be effective, something has to happen inside. That’s what all of the Jesus’ have told me — It happens inside,” she said.  

“We’ve had many wonderful men portraying Jesus, and they’ve all done it so beautifully in their own way. And truthfully, that’s what I believe; I believe there’s many faces to Jesus,” said Hidalgo. “Some are more kind and just really mellow, and some are more stern. I think even within the play, he can be both.” 

This year, Ted Rau plays Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to die. Experienced in community theater, he thought being part of the Passion Play sounded like an interesting challenge.  

Mary, played by Maggie Montoya, mourns Jesus after he is taken down from the cross and placed in her arms. 

Therese Hidalgo, long-time director of the passion play, watches on during a dress rehearsal as Roman soldiers crucify Jesus.

“I think it’s an important story to tell,” said Rau. “If you have a Christian background, I think this obviously brings it to life. If you don’t have a Christian background, I think it’s just a good educational experience to understand what those 2,000 years of history are all about.” 

Theresa Wright, who has been in charge of costumes for the last five years, said being a part of the Passion play is her way of serving the community. 

“I enjoy the hunt; I look for stuff all year round,” she said. “We have a lot of new people every year, and a lot of people who’ve been doing it for a while. Even though it’s not professional actors, the passion is there and everyone tries really hard to portray it as it should be portrayed — it still moves me to watch the play.” 

High Priest Caiaphas, left, escorts Jesus to King Herod, played by Robert Gallegos, who mocks him for claiming to be God. 

The High Priests Caiaphas, Alcimus and Jethro, conspire against Jesus. Pictured from left is Dennis (Nick) Nicolaus as Jethro, Woodrow Webster as Alcimus and Miguel Hidalgo as Caiaphas.  

While the troupe has already performed in Albuquerque and Los Lunas, there is still an opportunity to watch “Death of the Messiah” at the Belen High School auditorium.  

There will be one showing at 7 p.m., Friday, March 29, and another at 4 p.m., Saturday, March 30. Admission is free, but donations are also accepted. 

Hidalgo encourages anyone interested in being a part of next year’s cast and crew to contact her at 505-269-7659. 

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Felina Martinez News-Bulletin Writer

Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.