Pekin man continues 30th year Good Friday tradition, recreating Jesus’ walk to Calvary

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PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — For 30 years, Paul Helmig has walked, waved, prayed, and portrayed the son of God on Good Friday.

“To me it’s a mile marker,” Helmig said. “That’s almost a third of a century.”

He typically wraps himself in a blood-drenched garment, topped with a crown of thorns, and carries a 10-foot cross, dragging it on the pavement up Court Street.

Helmig said he’s proud to still be doing what he said God told him to do.

“I just felt like he told me to do this,” Helmig said. “God told me ‘this is what I want you to do.’ “I hope to stir up in people that it’s okay to stand up for what you believe.”

His figurative ‘Walk to Calvary’ does inspire believers like Cindy Copelen to show up year after year, taking in his portrayal and his message.

“To me, it means to stand firm on your faith and pray for the world,” Copelen said.

She said Helmig’s walk is more than just a tradition, but a symbolic sight.

“It reminds me of a reason to believe in something higher,” Copelen said.

Curt Evans, a pastor for Marquette Heights Campus, said he believes the portrayal reaches people throughout the city and provokes faith within those who come out to see him.

“They’re looking for something greater than themselves in a time where there isn’t much hope and the representation Paul has in the community is hope,” Evans said.

Evans said it’s especially helpful now during the pandemic to offer the public a sign of light and something to believe in.

“When they see that, we hope there is a visual reminder of ‘hey there’s still someone out in the world who cares,” Evans said. “Being the representation of Jesus not only for our church but for our community is a beautiful thing.”

Helmig said he does believe what he’s doing inspires hope and makes a difference.

“I think it is effective,” Helmig said. “God told me it would be, and he ain’t a liar.”

He said he’s been writing a book called “The Walk” for the better part of 20 years which will recap his journey and experiences. He said he’s just looking for an editor to help bring it all together.

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