The first day of spring this year was also Palm Sunday, and though the chilly, overcast weather didn’t exactly evoke Israel’s hot desert climate, a procession commemorating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem paraded down Main Street in New Paltz for the third year in a row. The event was organized by the New Paltz Church Council, and clergy and parishioners from ten different local congregations participated.
“Looks like a little over 250 people,” estimated Brian Maldonado, a volunteer from the Church of the Nazarene, as he handed out palm fronds to marchers and spectators along the parade route. The group set out at about 1:30 p.m. on March 20 from the New Paltz Middle School parking lot, following an invocation by Pastor Joshua Stewart of the Goodwill Evangelical Presbyterian Church. “This is what Jesus prayed for in John 17: that we be united,” he said to the gathered crowd.
Co-organizer Father Andrew Wyns of the Christ the King Charismatic Episcopal Church echoed the same ecumenical spirit. “With all the different denominations, it’s easy to see all our differences. The thing we have in common is our celebration of Jesus and his Passion, and Palm Sunday is the beginning of the time when we mark his Passion. It’s a day to put aside our differences,” he said. “The churches do work together often — for instance, on programs for the homeless: things people don’t see. So this is a day when we can stand together.”
According to Wyns, the Palm Sunday procession had been a New Paltz tradition “about 20 years ago,” but had been abandoned for a long while until “Father Bernard at St. Joe’s suggested that we start it up again.” That was three years ago, and the parish hall at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church is now the endpoint of the religious parade.
The route down Main Street onto Plattekill Avenue is essentially the same as New Paltz’s other annual parades, such as the ones that take place on Memorial Day and Halloween, except that it bypasses the Firehouse and skirts Hasbrouck Park along Tricor and Mohonk Avenues down to St. Joe’s. Molly, a riderless donkey guided by two volunteers from the Woodcrest Bruderhof in Rifton, led the procession. According to Christian tradition, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, symbolizing peace and humility, in contrast to a warlike arrival on horseback.
Next came an honor guard from the Cardinal Spellman Chapter 5800 of the Knights of Columbus, carrying flags and draped in their ceremonial finery, followed by the Columbiettes ladies’ auxiliary bearing a banner. A brass band consisting of musicians from Rifton and Ulster Park performed, stepping off to the harvest hymn “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Bringing up the rear of the procession was a truck-drawn float provided by the Knights of Columbus to accommodate parishioners who couldn’t manage to walk the entire parade route.
Zach Ashley, a deacon from Christ the King, bore a 30-pound redwood cross on his shoulder the whole way, flanked by altar boys carrying candles. Asked how he was assigned the heavy task, Ashley said, “It was at a staff meeting.” “We all stepped back, so he was the one who volunteered,” joked Keith Libolt, an archdeacon who carried the cross last year.
Upon arrival at St. Joseph’s parish hall, ten members of the clergy led a prayer, and the assembly sang along as the brass band played the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Hot coffee and cocoa, cold soda and water were provided for the marchers, along with cookies, cake, sweet breads, chips, dips and crudités — all donated by parishioners of St. Joe’s and the other participating churches.
There were many families in attendance, with all ages represented from infants to the elderly. Alysha Strauss, an eleven-year-old member of the Christ the King congregation, had just completed her second Palm Sunday procession. “I like walking and waving the palms,” she said. With her on an overnight visit was her ten-year-old friend from Poughkeepsie, Jayda Taylor. “I liked the band and the singing,” Taylor said. The girls also got to pet Molly the donkey.