A passionate pilgrimage
57 Legatus members trekked to Oberammergau and beyond on pilgrimage last fall . . .
The annual Legatus pilgrimage, which serves the spiritual edification and sheer enjoyment of her members, almost invariably features a visit to Rome.
This year was an exception, however, as 57 Legatees bypassed the Eternal City to trek north to the Holy Father’s fatherland, followed by a week-long Danube cruise to Budapest with stops along the way.
The Sept. 9-20 pilgrimage brought Legates to witness the Passion play at Oberammergau, which the villagers of the quaint Bavarian town have been performing once every decade in homage to Our Lord for protecting them in the Thirty Years War nearly 400 years ago. This year marked the 41st time they’ve performed the play, which features over 100 performances from May through October.
“Legatus always does a first-class job and the play itself was phenomenal,” said Mary Beth Rzeteljski, a member of Legatus’ South Bay of Los Angeles Chapter, who went with her husband Viktor. “It’s not like the actors are trying to advance their careers, because only people from Oberammergau take part — several thousand of them!”
Rzeteljski especially noted the elevating depictions of Christ and Our Lady. “When they reenacted the crucifixion, it was moving beyond words,” she said. “It was incredible to me how they depicted the Blessed Virgin Mary, the pain and sorrow she endured watching her Son go through this. I think that’s an aspect often overlooked. And the villager portraying Christ! We’ve seen Passion plays before, but they’ve been doing this one for almost 400 years and they’ve got it down pretty good. Once Jesus dies on the cross, you couldn’t see him take a breath or see a stomach muscle move.”
Accompanying the Rzeteljskis were Mary Beth’s sister, a Sister of Nazareth, as well as the mother general of their London-based order. “They were just thrilled to be there and be part of it,” she said. “They gave us a beautiful note afterward, saying how blessed they were to be in the presence of so many committed Catholic marriages.”
Speaking of committed marriages, one couple made the pilgrimage in celebration of their 60th anniversary: Bill and Helen Rogers of the Baltimore Chapter.
“I can tell you point blank that it turned out to be one of the finest trips Helen and I have ever taken,” said Bill Rogers. “The highlight was the Passion play, even if we couldn’t understand one word that was spoken. But there’s something special about Legatus trips. [This was their second.] You couldn’t ask for finer, more down-to-earth people. And the priest who served as our chaplain, well, he was a priest you just wanted to be with.”
The chaplain in question had the same sentiments toward the pilgrims whom he served. “The best part was them,” said Fr. Joseph Cocucci, chaplain of Legatus’ Wilmington Chapter. “Legatus people are wonderfully participative in the life of the Church, and this really builds a priest up. Of the pilgrimages I’ve gone on, my Legatus sisters and brothers are the most prayerful I’ve been among.”
And the Passion play itself?
“Like a Franco Zeffirelli film, every scene was aesthetically fantastic and spiritually elevating,” said Fr. Cocucci. “Occasionally the chorus would come out and sing while the actors on the stage would present a tableau from the Old Testament that correlated with what was being depicted in the Passion — from Adam and Eve thrown out of paradise to Cain semi-suspended falling upon Abel, all completely still for a minute or 90 seconds.”
Barbara Stephen of the Orange Coast Chapter went on pilgrimage with her husband Doug. She called the pilgrimage “extremely well thought out, spiritually uplifting and lots of fun — from experiencing the Passion play to attending a classical music concert in Vienna.”
Indeed, the pilgrimage featured historically and culturally significant sites, not to mention fine dining. The Passion play, however, was the highpoint of a powerfully religious pilgrimage to the center of Europe, pilgrims said. Next year’s pilgrimage will return Legates to Europe’s heart — the Eternal City and the center of the faith.
Matthew A. Rarey is Legatus Magazine’s editorial assistant.