By Gianna Bonello
Many saints may have died years ago, but for two nights in St. Cloud, they came back to life.
On Oct. 30 and Nov. 3, Assumption Cemetery in St. Cloud was filled with the saints as they came back to life through the Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk, a student-performed ‘evangelization drama’ that seeks to teach visitors about the last things and the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Students from the a local home-school group acted as the saints, teaching visitors about topics such as heaven, hell, death and purgatory. Guests met 14 saints throughout the night.
Brenda Berg-Arnold, one of the co-chairs of the walk, said the goal of Back From the Dead is to teach not only about heaven, hell and purgatory, but to also remember what Christians have endured for the faith. She said it is important to “keep these things at the forefront of your mind.
“You don’t know how much time you have. … This is something we should all be thinking about all the time: How can we prepare for the next life, for our time in heaven and just to be ready for that,” Berg-Arnold said.
Eighteen students performed in the walk, while other students acted as guides, leading guests to different stops throughout the cemetery.
At each stop, the saints spoke about different topics relating to death. Some saints spoke of their martyrdom; others, of the persecutions they faced; still others recounted their visions of hell or purgatory.
For the students, participating in the walk meant more than just performing — it also has had a big impact on their faith.
“When I first came here with my friends, it was so cold, but I walked away a better Catholic,” said 15-year-old Anastasia Sis, a parishioner of St. Joseph in Waite Park who played St. Cecilia. “I loved it; all the saints inspired me, and it made me just a better person.”
Other student veterans of the walk, such as Ella Stay, a parishioner at Sts. Peter and Paul in Gilman who portrayed St. Teresa of Avila, also have been positively impacted by participating in the program.
“I chose St. Teresa of Avila as my confirmation saint because of this. I really feel like I formed a bond with her and just really understand her better,” said Stay, who is in her fifth year of performing in the walk.
Berg-Arnold said it’s moving to watch the students perform.
“I’m always amazed at how much time and effort they put into their characters. They just always seem to really speak from the heart, and they really seem to have a good grasp of who their character was and are just really good at portraying that feeling to the people that come through,” Berg-Arnold said.
The walk was also enlightening to visitors. About 100 people attended on Oct. 30, with an additional 70 signed up for Nov. 3, Berg-Arnold said.
For Mary Blissenbach, who attended for the first time after learning about it through a flyer in the St. Cloud library, the walk offered a new perspective.
“Learning some of that Church history was interesting. I grew up Methodist, not Catholic, so it’s kind of a new sense in that way,” said Blissenbach, who attends Coon Rapids United Methodist Church. “It gives that All Saints Day a new vision, a new way to see it.”
Berg-Arnold said the cemetery walk began in St. Cloud as a performance put on exclusively for the local homeschool group. The group had been searching for a program related to All Saints and All Souls Day, and stumbled upon Back from the Dead.
Soon the program expanded to the public. This is the sixth year the walk has been put on in St. Cloud, Berg-Arnold said.
Back from the Dead was created by Father Brian Nolan from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Father Nolan had the idea when he was a campus minister at McDaniel College in Maryland in 2002, he wrote in a post on Back From the Dead’s website. Many college students were questioning death and the afterlife. After prayer and reflection, “the idea of a ‘Cemetery Walk,’ teaching the faith in a creative way, took form,” Father Nolan wrote.
“May this ‘evangelization drama’ be used for the greater glory of God to bring many people to have a holy fear of things they should be afraid of, and a great love of Heaven,” Father Nolan wrote.
For more information, visit https://www.backfromthedead.org.