After dusk on Holy Thursday the judge home to lean against a whitewashed wall and watch her father prepare for the procession.

The judge's name is Rosio Caicedo; she is 30, has thick black hair curled around enormous brown eyes, presides over Popayan criminal cases, and does not go to mass.

The judge's mother gazes at her daughter with fierce, protective love, but wishes she would go to mass. The judge's father is small, with short strong fingers and a compact face browned by the mountain sum on his cattle ranch.

The judge's father, whose name is Mauro Caicedo, is a carguero, a carrier. During Holy Week, this matters more than all the other things he is -- rancher, former carpenter, father with the sweet, tired pride of having raised a lawyer son and a doctor son and judge daughter.

Now carguero is more important. For 38 years, Caicedo has been one of the men of Popayan who walk the slow Holy Week night processions, carrying on their shoulders the heavy silver-encrusted status that tell the story of the crucifixion of Christ.

In all his years of carrying, the 23-block walk with the great weight of the cross or the suffering Virgin pressing down on his shoulder, Caicedo has never asked for relief. In Popayan there is no place for a man who succumbs to the pain of the carrying, who looks for help or abandons the procession. -- such a man is remembered long after Holy Week. The shame marks him.

"That one lost it," people will say. There was a carrier not long ago whose heart failed as he walked in the candelit street.

Soledad Caicedo, the judge's mother, talked briefly about that death as she watched Mauro Caicedo dress. He had pulled a long tunic over his head and slipped his feet into the white cloth shoes all the carriers wear. Besides him a family friend, a young university student now in his third year of carrying, braced himself against a wood column while the women tightened the laced white belt -- for muscle support, to prevent hernias -- around his bare stomach.

The young man slipped on his tunic and held his hands in the air while Rosio Caicedo fussed with his white sash.

"Does it feel secure?" she asked. He nodded, pulled the blue cap over his head, and folded back the pointed tip of the cap so it lay smoothly over his scalp.

On the street outside the commotion was growing: the people of Popayan, carrying babies and white tapers gathering before the wrought-iron balconies and heavy wood doors of the town center.

It had been seven years since the judge last stayed in Popayan for Holy Week. The feverish arguments within the Latin American church had reached Rosio Caicedo and the Catholic University students who were gradually lapsing with her. They had filled nights like this with the great questions raised by the dramatic church conferences of the late 1960s and 1970s: Was faith alone enough in nations where children went hungry? Could the message of Christ be interpreted as a call for social change?

And the Popayan mysticism, as the judge called it, sat uneasily in her now. She could not remember which color corresponded to which night. On Thursday it was white flowers for purity, or red flowers for love. The judge's mother would know.

As a child Rosio Caicedo had awaited the night of her father's procession with a kind of terrified joy: down the street, behind the mournful would faces of St. John and Mary Magdalene, the bloody Christ would come slowly, His past illuminated by a long line of lighted candles. And of the eight men carrying Him, the men who shared His burden and felt the pain of the Savior, their feet stepping slowly in perfect synchronization lest the lord sway too much to either side -- there among the men would be Rosio's father, his shoulder steady under the wooden that held the statue's base. She would wave then, bowled over with pride, and when her father smiled at her Rosio would run ahead to meet him at the next block.

"There are people who live all year for this, planning it, waiting for it," said the judge. Her mother put on a shawl and they stepped out into the crowed street, Mauro Caicedo leading the Way. He looked from behind like a sturdy monk, his tunic moving slowly toward the parish cathedral, past costumed girls in off-the-shoulder blouses, past procession masters in tuxedos and white gloves, past thieves who grabbed quickly into dangling purses and then darted into the crowd, past the silent phalanx of helmeted soldiers standing just outside the great baroque church.

The judge amd her mother walked a long way down the street, looking for a place to stand, Popayan is famous for its Holy Week Precessions, and people come to visit by the thousands, some of them worshipers from the lush coffee and cattle country nearby, some of them foreigners with guidebooks about the city's glorious Spanish colonial architecture.

Under a wrought-iron balcony, where a row of boys sat with their legs swinging (so Rosio could look up and see the waving black rubber soles of their shoes), the judge and her mother found a small patch of bare sidewalk. A row of boy scouts, arms linked, cleared the street of people. There was a slow pounding in the distance, and the sidewalk voices dropped to a low murmur. The pounding grew louder, bass drums approaching, and between the drum-beats the silence was broken only by the loud rattles of the young boys leading the procession.

The young man next to the judge held a transistor radio to his ear, listening to the soft running commentary of the Popayan announcer watching the procession. The candle bearers lit the street with their two long lines of lighted tapers, and between them the huge platforms carrying the statues began to pass by on the shouldders of the white-shoed men.

Christ in chains, crowned with thorns, flanked by soldiers. Christ with hands outstretched before Pontius Pilate. Christ under beating the blood streaming down his back as soldiers flaired him. A black-robed chorus sang mournfully and walked between the platforms. The carriers were mostly the sons or grandsons of carriers; the right to bear the statues is a privilege passed on from father to son, and it is forfeited the day a son grows too tall to match shoulders with seven other men.

The judge stood up straight now, watching the street. The Crucified Savior was moving toward them, bathed in candlelight, a young boy hurrying alongside to scrape wax from the tapers at the statue's base.

Mauro Caicedo walked in back, one arm raised to grasp the platform, one arm folded behind his back. He gazed straight ahead until the carriers stopped to rest, wedging wood poles below the platform to hold it steady.

Then Mauro Caicedo straightened his shoulders. He rested his hands comfortably on the thick wood beam. He raised his head and studied the crowd until his face suddenly lit and you could see that he had found his daughter the judge, who was laughing and waving for all she was worth.