Melbourne Catholic - April 2016 - page 5

Catherine Sheehan
The man of faith
On Good Friday in 1996, while he was participating in the
Stations of the Cross at his parish of St Gregory’s in Doncaster,
Pasquale (Pat) La Manna’s mind drifted from the Stations
of the Cross to thinking about the famous Passion Play in
Oberammergau in Germany. That’s when Pat heard what he
describes as ‘a message in my head, like somebody talking
to me, saying I want you to establish the Passion Play in
Melbourne’. His immediate response was doubt.
‘I thought, I can’t, there’s no way. I’m not educated enough and
I don’t know that much about it. I think I’m a good Catholic but I
don’t know enough about the history of Jesus.’ Pat approached
his wife Helen and the parish priest and told them about the
voice and its request. ‘They looked at me like I was crazy. I could
see it in their eyes. They didn’t give any encouragement or
discouragement. They didn’t talk. But I could see in their eyes,
Are you crazy?’
But Pat couldn’t stop thinking about the request. Soon after, he
found some people who were greatly enthused about the idea
of a large-scale Passion Play and together they began planning.
The very first play was performed in 1997 at Pat’s 172-acre
property in Rosebud, with 30 actors taking part. Admission was
$10 per head with the proceeds going to well-known charities.
After the second year of the play, also performed in Rosebud,
Pat and Helen went on a pilgrimage to Italy. While they were in
Padua, Pat suffered a stroke and was hospitalised for 13 days.
He lost all movement on one side of his body. ‘For many days it
was touch and go,’ Pat says.
‘Fortunately the stroke didn’t affect my memory. I had time
to think and for 13 days I had a huge conversation with God.
I promised God that if he let me live I would not charge money
to see the performance and I’d move to Melbourne, where
it would be easier to recruit people.’
The La Mannas moved to Melbourne and settled in the eastern
suburb of Doncaster. Pat set about finding a suitable Melbourne
location for the Passion Play. He looked at Ruffey Lake Park,
a 68-hectare park situated on the border between Doncaster
and Templestowe. He walked around the park imagining it as the
setting for the play. ‘Every step I took it got better and better and
better.’ After obtaining approval from the local council, the Passion
Play finally had a new home and it has been performed each
year at Ruffey Lake Park for the past 18 years. Unfortunately, due
to increasing restrictions from the council, the Passion Play will
be moving from Ruffey Lake Park next year, to a new location yet
to be determined.
Today the Melbourne Passion Play has about 80 volunteers,
including actors and behind-the-scenes people who look after
costumes, props and makeup. Helen does all the catering for
the volunteers.
The play is non-denominational and everyone is welcome to
volunteer regardless of religious affiliation.
Despite its name, the Passion Play actually depicts Christ’s
entire public ministry from his baptism in the Jordan River to the
Resurrection. Each scene of the play is performed in a different
area of the park and the actors mingle with the audience, making
spectators a part of the action or the crowd following Christ.
Each year a different actor plays Christ; however, if an actor
does a particularly good job he is permitted to perform the role
for a second year.
Continued overleaf ...
For the past 20 years the Melbourne Passion Play has moved people with
its depiction of Christ’s suffering and death. The long-running play is testament
to the faith of one man who listened and responded to what he believes was
a request from God.
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