By Rachele Smith
The Catholic Commentator
Faith and art came alive, literally, at Our Lady of Pompeii Church in Tickfaw on April 9.
Recreating Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper” on Palm Sunday at Our Lady of Pompeii Church are, from left, Terry Vitrano as St. Nathaniel (and also referred to as St. Bartholomew), Bob Roy as St. Andrew, Tony Raimondo as St. James the Less, Anthony Musacchia (partially hidden) as St. Peter, Guy Ribando as Judas Iscariot, Tony Sanzone as St. John, Lawrence Joiner as Jesus, Mike Lamartiniere as St. Thomas, Barry Pellichino as St. James, Guy Pellichino as St. Philip, John Crayton as St. Matthew, Ryan Schexnayder as St. (Jude) Thaddaeus and Charles Moreau as St. Simon (the Zealot).
Set against a backdrop of sacred Gregorian chants, parishioners and friends gathered in the church to witness a living dramatization of Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper.” The event, now in its 19th year, is held annually on Palm Sunday, making it a fitting way to reflect on the events of the upcoming Holy Week, said Deacon Al Levy, parish life coordinator of Our Lady of Pompeii.
Levy, along with five other parishioners, including Tony Anzalone, Daniel Farace, George Patecek, John Catalanotte and Louis Tallo, were the voices of the 12 apostles as Da Vinci’s famous painting came to life.
Virginia Patecek, the humble, yet steady force behind the annual production for almost two decades, said the event, which takes place on the altar, invites the faithful to understand the thoughts and feelings of each disciple as they experience a pivotal night in Jesus’ life.
Patecek explained the dramatization, which was first based on a script she received and “tweaked” from a friend who attended a Presbyterian church, showcases the 12 apostles as they individually walk to the altar where a long table is waiting. However, before each takes his place at the table to recreate Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” the disciple turns to the congregation and announces his name. It is at this point, however, another voice is heard; it is the “voice of the apostle” offering a glimpse into not only how the individual disciples first met and decided to follow Jesus, but also his emotions on being told by the Lord that “… One of you will betray me” (Mk 14:18).
“It is more magical and more effective when they are not speaking,” said Patecek.
As the disciples take their place at the table, they join 25-year-old Lawrence Joiner, who portrays Jesus. Joiner, a saxophone player in the jazz/funk band “Doctor Green and the Funk Machine,” has an undeniably close appearance to traditional images of Christ found throughout history. While the other actors state who they are as they approach the front of the church, Jesus enters the altar from behind the tabernacle and needs no introduction for the audience. He is solemn and pensive.
Joiner said he takes his role in the production seriously.
“I try to reflect what Jesus would be thinking,” said Joiner, who, unlike each disciple, immediately assumes his pose in the famous painting as soon as he sits in front of the bread on the table.
“A lot of people ask how I can pose like that for so long without moving. What I do is think about my own failings during the year,” said Joiner, adding that as his muscles become tense and begin to hurt, rather than move to a more comfortable position, he endures the pain knowing that Jesus suffered so much more throughout his passion and death.
Patecek noted events leading up to this year’s living dramatization were filled with moments of great joy as well as many difficulties for the cast and crew. She said the group is a ministry first and foremost and requires the faithful dedication of many, both on the altar and behind the scenes. However, like any gathering of people, there were moments, some of extreme sadness, that could have affected the performance.
Yet, she said, as the family of believers they portray, they rallied to each other’s aid and helped create an inspirational performance for everyone, including those on stage.
Guy Pellichino, who portrayed St. Philip, said he offered to be an apostle in the program after watching his son, Barry, portray St. James some 10 years ago.
“I felt like the prodigal son,” said Guy Pellichino, explaining that he was so emotional after witnessing that first performance that he decided to return to the Catholic Church after a 37-year absence.
Since then he and Barry have remained side by side at the table, and this year, their performance was testimony to their steady faith.
Guy said he dedicated this year’s living dramatization to his son and Barry’s brother, David, who died only days before.
Ryan Schexnayder, who portrayed Thaddaeus, said it is the remarkable commitment of the Pellichino’s and everyone involved in the production that help make it so inspiring.
“I remember the first time I saw it. I had goose bumps (when the actors recreated the pose from the painting). I was just so touched by it, and I knew I wanted to help bring that to others,” he said.
Guy Ribando, who played the role of Judas, held onto a small gold coin bag. Like the other men portraying the disciples, Ribando said he studied his apostle and has tried to understand what made Judas betray Jesus.
“I just can’t figure out why he wanted to do this,” said Ribando, who added that he has often wished he could have walked with Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.
While many of the men portraying the apostles have been a part of the production for 10 years or more, even growing their own beards to match their counterparts, only one, Anthony Musacchia, has been with the group since the beginning. Like the disciple he portrays, Peter, Musacchia is the rock, and said he continues to participate year after year simply for one reason.
“I just enjoy it,” he said.
“I like to be a part of the church and to participate in the life of our community at Our Lady of Pompeii,” he explained.