By Seth Daniel
There are few acting roles that measure up to the difficulty of playing Jesus Christ, but Revereâ€™s Gianni Hill has bore the burden once already, and this Palm Sunday at St. Anthonyâ€™s, he will premiere for the second year in a row as Jesus in the 13th annual Passion Play.
Hill said he has always been involved in youth group at St. Anthonyâ€™s, but he never considered being in the play until three years ago when he got the part of Judas Iscariot. Last year, in a desperate moment, the organizers of the event â€“ Donna Felzani and Father Kumar (who has since left the Parish) â€“ turned to Hill.
And they found just the right person.
â€œYou have to feel the lines and be in the right frame of mind,â€ said Hill, 17, this week. â€œYou just canâ€™t show up and go through it. Father Kumar last year was always telling me I had to feel the lines and be like Jesus was. You have to feel his pain because you want people to feel his pain and understand what he went through on the cross. Everyone is crying, and you want that because itâ€™s a personal feeling message.â€
Felzani said the St. Anthonyâ€™s Youth Group has been putting on the play since 2001, when former Father Paul Soper revived the old tradition. Over the last 13 years, Felzani has been leading and coordinating the effort. She said itâ€™s a labor of love, but it really moves the congregation and it helps the kids understand better how Jesus suffered.
â€œIf you asked kids from the early 2000s and right up to last year about this play, the kids will say it was probably the most meaningful event theyâ€™ve been a part of at church,â€ he said. â€œWe have one person who went into the priesthood and many who have gone into service. I pray every year that the Lord will send the Holy Spirit to provide me with a great young man to re-enact the role of Jesus. Our latest Jesus, Gianni Hill, has been wonderful.â€
In order to get in the right frame of mind, Hill said it requires many hours of practice. For two hours every Sunday night for the last month and a half rehearsing the lines and getting down the story and the movements.
This year he said he really believes heâ€™ll put in a much-improved rendition of Jesus for the Parish.
â€œI definitely think from last year it was about me trying to learn the lines and youâ€™re going to get nervous the first time,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s the same concept and the same lines this year, but now I can put more emotion into it and go beyond my capabilities and make it all better.â€
An even bigger part of the Passion Play is that donations from the five performances on Saturday and Sunday go towards cost associated with the annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic, which Hill will be attending for the second year.
â€œThatâ€™s a really important part of this Passion Play, the fact that it benefits our mission trip to the Dominican,â€ he said.
Hill is the son of Michael and Joanna (Leone) Hill.
The play will take place during Mass on Saturday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. It will be performed during Mass on Sunday at 7:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon.