DRIPPING with perspiration and covered in bloody make-up, 20-year-old Benedict Teo struggled as he dragged a solid wooden cross nearly twice his height yesterday.
The polytechnic graduate was playing Jesus Christ in the annual passion play held by the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which he has been attending for 11 years.
Mr Teo shouldered the cross for nearly an hour under the blazing sun as he walked barefoot while wearing a crown of thorns.
He said later: "The experience was not as painful as I thought it would be, through God's grace."
About 150 Catholics recited prayers yesterday as they trailed a group of about 15 actors performing the passion play in the church's carpark - an area about half the size of a football field.
It culminated in Mr Teo entering the church building and being "nailed" to the 3m by 1.5m cross.
A passion play is a drama production of the Passion of Christ, a series of events leading to Jesus' crucifixion, usually put up by churches around Lent, the period leading up to Easter.
Though passion plays are common in Singapore, the version held at Saints Peter and Paul is "more novel and creative", said Mr Arthur Goh, director of the Singapore Pastoral Institute.
This is because it also incorporates the Stations of the Cross, a ritual practised throughout the year in all Catholic churches, which sees churchgoers reciting devotional prayers to remember Christ's last days.
This combination "is more vivid and visual, and creates a more emotional and affective experience", said Saints Peter and Paul's parish priest, Father John Chua.
Parishioner Elizabeth Yeo, 49, agreed. Said the stockbroker: "I watch it every year, but I'm always mesmerised by it. It is a good reminder of how Christ suffered for us, and it touches me every time."
The play has been put up every year since 2005 by the church's younger members and was conceived by youth ministry member Marcus Wu, a 24-year-old university student, when he spotted the unused cross in a corner of the church.
One of the more difficult aspects of putting on the play was finding a person to play Jesus Christ given the physical demands of the role, said Mr Wu, who is this year's passion play coordinator and who also acted as a Roman soldier.
Some people also shy away - believing they are not worthy of playing the Messiah. "Being Jesus is not simple," he said.
But yesterday's passion play could be the last one for a while. The church will embark on lengthy restoration works soon and there may not be enough space to stage it.
"I hope we can carry on the tradition, to continue to inspire the faithful," said Mr Wu.