WESTMINSTER — The first-graders sat mesmerized by the story unfolding before them in the gym at St. John Catholic School.
"I saw the soldiers carrying the hammers and I felt sorry for Jesus," said John Sebeck, 7. "We learned in religion class that he died when they nailed him on the cross."
At the school Friday, seventh- and eighth-grade students performed "Living Stations," a portrayal of the Stations of the Cross, which depict the story of Christ's passion, death and resurrection.
"Everyone is a part of the story, even the audience," said Devon Bourexis, 13.
All 64 seventh- and eighth-grade students participate in theplay, including some who acted out the same role last year.
The story is pantomimed to the words and music of "His Last Days" by Dallas Holme. The drama begins with Palm Sunday and follows Jesus through the Last Supper, his crucifixion and death and resurrection.
"The children watch quietly and don't move," said Principal Patricia Brink, who introduced the play to the school eight years ago. "It never ceases to amaze me how still they can be."
Barefoot and dressed in abeige tunic, T. J. Reisdorf, 13, portrayed Christ. He said he had cold feet at first, literally and figuratively, because he felt playingthe part was an awesome responsibility.
"The most moving part forme was when Mary (the mother of Jesus) knelt before me," he said, adding she made him think of his own mother. "It made me think that Jesus' mother suffered, too. Suppose I would never see my own mother again?"
In a white veil, Jennifer Hodgins, who played Mary, knelt before Jesus and acted out the words "I would gladly die in your place."
Brink said she always cries at the scene when Christ confronts his mother. The scene brought tears to many of the nearly 300 people inthe audience.
"Mary is willing to die in her son's place," said Charlee Maenner, 12, who played one of the weeping women. "It shows how much she loves her son.
"I loved her facial expressions," said Sarah Martin of her classmate who played Mary. "It makes me cry but itmakes the story more meaningful.
Seven-year-old Jason Mogavero said he has attended the Stations of the Cross several times before at St. John Catholic Church. There, a parish priest would walk around the church, stopping to pray at each of the 14 pictures depicting the events of Holy Week.
Jason liked the school's version much better.
"The church is dark and we can't see everything," he said. "Here, in the gym, it is much brighter. This stations is the best."
Watching the play, seventh-grader Erin Fencil said she felt like she was actually there -- 2,000 years ago -- watching the Crucifixion.
"The'Living Stations' brought me closer to God and made me realize that Jesus would do anything for us because he loves us."
"I like my part, but it's hard, " said William McLean, who played Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who sentenced Christ to death on the cross.
Bill Diggins, 13, played Judas, probably the most unpopular character. Still, the eighth-grade student said he sympathized with the apostle who betrayed Christ.
"I felt sorry for Judas," he said. "He couldn't tell that Jesus loved him, too, and would forgive him."
This year's eighth-grade students were first-graders when the school first produced the play. They all agreed they would miss the yearly presentation.
Jeff West wrote to his teacher, thanking her for the opportunity.
"We had this once a year and twice in my lifetime I got to take part in it," he wrote.
Kerry Ann O'Brien, another soon-to-be graduate, wrote she would carry the memories of the the experience withher always.
"I was sad but then I felt a sense of relief and happiness when Jesus rose to new life," she wrote. "I felt I was really there when all this happened."