SALT LAKE CITY — Men and women of all ages walked through downtown Salt Lake City on Friday night, spanning half a block by the midway point of their route. As curious onlookers watched from cars, restaurants and a tattoo parlor's front windows, the crowd followed faith leaders in formal robes and volunteers carrying a wooden cross.
Far from parading around in their Sunday best, these worshippers wore Oakland Raiders jackets, sandals and leopard-print leggings. They weren't showing off; they were showing up to worship God with one another.
"This is an opportunity to see people and meet people," said the Rev. Mike Imperiale, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and one of the leaders of the event.
The Procession of the Cross, an annual collaboration between some of Salt Lake's Christian congregations, takes participants on a spiritual and physical journey. They revisit the final hours of Jesus Christ's life through Bible readings, prayers and songs, reflecting on the pain of his death as they walk alongside familiar faces and potential new friends.
"Every Sunday, these people are in that church, those people are in that church and we're in church over there," said Becky Buxton, as she gestured at the houses of worship along South Temple. "This is one of the ways we recognize what we have in common."
In addition to being a meaningful interfaith gathering, the event is an opportunity to proclaim religious beliefs publicly, said Cindy Carter, who is visiting Utah from Tacoma, Washington. She brought her husband, Tony, and dog, Chili, to the walk after hearing about it during a church tour earlier this week.
"I don't think Christians show enough in their communities about who Jesus is to them," Carter said, noting that the procession was a step in the right direction.
This year, participants made their way from the Cathedral of the Madeleine to First Presbyterian Church to Crossroads Urban Center to First United Methodist Church to the Cathedral Church of St. Mark. At each stop, they heard a piece of the crucifixion story and had an opportunity to volunteer to carry the 9-foot tall cross to the next destination.
"I've been wanting to do that for years," said John Salazar, who held the cross on his shoulder as the crowd moved from the cathedral to the Presbyterian church. "It was very emotional."
The event helps people understand the meaning of Good Friday, a powerful moment during the season of Lent, the Rev. Imperiale said. They remember the pain of Jesus Christ's betrayal and death and stand in awe of his sacrifice.
"The cross of Christ is central to our faith," he said.
As the last light of the evening left the sky, participants entered their final stop. Rustling jackets and sniffling noses replaced the traffic noise, and people readied themselves once more for a scripture reading, songs and prayers.
By the time they walked back out onto the sidewalk, they'd reached the point in the Bible story at which Jesus had died. It was a dark, cold night, and there were many reasons to be sorrowful. But the joy of Easter would be coming soon.