A Python-esque rite in South Philly


Always look on the bright side, my homeys.

Ah, the rites of spring in the `hood! You know — palm weaving, the Easter Parade on South Street, race riots in Grays Ferry. Here’s one that was new to me — the Good Friday re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus, outside the Annunciation B.V.M. Church at 10th and Dickinson streets, with a large crowd of Latinos that included rosary-clutching women and some men in plumed helmets, toting spears.

Not so long ago Annunciation was on its way to becoming pretty vacant, as the Sex Pistols would say. Many parishioners in the once heavily Italian neighborhood had died off or moved to places like Washington Township, NJ, aka Little South Philly. But then came the large influx of Latinos into the area.

Many of these Latinos do the grunt work in local restaurants or have helped keep the Italian Market neighborhood alive by starting their own businesses, some of which remain open after dark, a concept the old merchants on Ninth Street never warmed up to.

According to the latest census, the influx of Latinos and Southeast Asians has helped stop the decline in South Philly’s population. Their presence here has angered Joey Vento, owner of Geno’s Steaks, and suburban Tea Party types who blame recent immigrants for lost American jobs because they don’t want to understand how we’ve all been screwed by Wall Street and corporate outsourcing.

I’m off-topic, as usual… What a versatile word, crucifixion. Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods have described themselves as crucified by the media. Tori Amos sang of crucifying herself for love. William Jennings Bryan warned that the U.S. would be crucified on a cross of gold.

But there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, or at least a copy of the real thing. The Jesus impersonator, rather than hanging from nails driven into hands and feet, was standing on a platform and gripping metal rungs embedded in the cross. The crowd milled, presumably imagining the real Jesus dying in the hot sun, although it was cold and overcast, a bad day to be half-naked and immobile.

And what did the onlookers take away from this show? Maybe the old-time notion that Jesus died for their sins, or for somebody’s, and deserves some gratitude. (I think this was in the Book of Patti Smith.)

More likely, an earthly reminder that you can travel thousands of miles to escape poverty and prejudice and have to fight the same battles all over again in your new home. But also the semi-comforting thought that things could be worse, you might as well hang around for a while and, like Monty Python, look on the bright side of life.

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