When Alfio Stuto isn’t portraying Christ, he works in advertising and media production. Marina Dixon is a beauty therapist. But on July 18, the two set aside their day jobs to portray Jesus and Mary in Sydney’s World Youth Day Stations of the Cross. More than 500,000 people watched the Stations throughout Sydney, and it’s estimated that 500 million watched the devotion on television around the world. Stuto and Dixon spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake in Sydney the morning after their performance.
Why did you take the roles?
Alfio: We did it to glorify God’s name, so that the hearts of people of any faith could be touched. We also did it to teach people about the story of what God did for humanity.
Marina: I can’t add anything to that.
How did you prepare for the roles?
Marina: I tried to quiet myself and totally leave the secular world. I tried to fast from the things I enjoy — chocolate and meat. I also stopped listening to music and watching television. I prayed to stay focused.
Alfio: Prayer, meditation, reflection. I tried to think of the world and where it’s at today and get a deep understanding of the poverty and suffering that is going on. I tried to feel the pain and use that. I exercised and ran a lot to stay focused. Also, I listened to music, specifically music about the Gospel, Jesus and God to help me reflect and meditate.
How long have you been re--hearsing?
Marina: We began in March with rehearsals in a hall. Over the last few weeks, we rehearsed on site, predominantly on the weekend and one weekday evening per week.
What were you thinking during the performance?
Alfio: I was reflecting on the experiences in my own life. When I was dragged up toward the cross, my vision was of death. At the Eighth Station, where Jesus met the women and his mother, I kept thinking of how my mother has been there for me. I saw the maternal holiness in Marina and was saddened when she was pushed away.
Marina: I noticed that every woman has a maternal instinct. I wanted to do whatever I could to save my son.
What was the most strenuous aspect of playing your role?
Alfio: Emotionally, at Station Eight, where Jesus meets the women and Mary, I was overcome with so much emotion thinking about my own mother and the maternal relationship. Physically, the dragging and the scourging were strenuous. I felt very vulnerable, especially when I was upside down. The other characters also helped to create that vulnerability. It became very real.
Did you leave with any physical injuries?
Alfio: A little grazing on the elbow and knee from when I was dragged, some bumps and bruises, but it’s not even a speck of what Jesus went through.
During the performance I was thinking, give me more pain if you feel it’s right. It’s all God’s work.
What did you do after the performance?
Alfio: I went to see Father Stan Fortuna, the rapping priest. I also had some quiet time with my wife. She’s been unbelievably supportive of me through this challenging journey.
Marina: I went to an event with the Hillsong team and had some chocolate. I haven’t had chocolate for so long.
What do you hope others take from the performance?
Alfio: I hope they have a spiritual connection with the story and the fact that Jesus had so much love for the world that he did this. For Christian believers, I hope it draws them closer to God.
Marina: My heart’s cry was that through the experience, God would speak to each individual.
How has playing these roles impacted your faith?
Alfio: It’s brought me closer to God. I’ve found another dimension. Hopefully, through this role, people will become messengers and we can share that with others. Post-production, we can share our emotions and experiences and people can learn from that.
Marina: I’ve learned to rest in God and learned to surrender and just trust him, that the Spirit of the Lord will have his way no matter what. I found a real intimacy and have definitely come closer to God. My emotions have changed, my voice has changed. It’s been beautiful and precious.
There were times during the performance where I would cross over into prayer and felt I didn’t exist. It was if the Spirit of the Lord took over and I wasn’t performing, but dying to self and embodying the event.
What is your message for the World Youth Day pilgrims?
Alfio: My message would be to open your hearts to everything that’s happening at WYD. The Spirit is really alive. The energy developing throughout the week is unbelievable. You don’t have to be Catholic to notice that. There’s a buzz, and it’s mystical. My message is, soak it all up like a sponge and don’t let it ever get away. It’s a reawakening of the Church and it’s only going to get better. WYD isn’t just for Catholics. It’s for anyone seeking hope in life.
Marina: There’s a deep hunger to know God more. That’s exciting to see. My message would be intimacy, to seek God through prayer and the Gospels. Living the faith doesn’t just have to be a Sunday event.
The Pope will be leaving soon, the big screens are already being taken down. What happens next?
Alfio: You have to grab on for dear life. The screens may come down, but the Spirit remains.
Marina: There will be a move in the Church. The Church is coming into a new season.
Tim Drake filed this story
from Sydney, Australia.