Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 22, 2004
Antigua mixes spirit and secular
Faith and life come together in a Guatemala city
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
On the feast of the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary earlier this year I decided to attend a special mass celebrated in the parish of the Candelaria in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, in Central America.
Somehow this feast has connected with the symbol of candles as a sign of purity and innocence, hence the name Candelaria given to this particular parish.
It took me a good half-hour walk to get there. To my surprise, there was no church to be seen - just an open square where people had gathered for Mass.
18th century ruinsIn the background in the heart of this city of 30,000 people were impressive ruins of an 18th century church dedicated to the purification of Mary destroyed by earthquakes years ago.
In the square, one noticed equipment for rides for the kids. There were at each end two sets of goals for soccer and perhaps floor hockey.
In the middle of the square was the altar with just the top of a tent covering the altar area. The tent was actually an ad for Orange Crush, and in its own peculiar way it did the job of centering the attention toward the altar.
Along the back and the sides of the square were bleachers filled with people. Several chairs surrounded the altar. On the south and west sides of the property were two busy streets with traffic going by and also with pedestrians stopping to look at what was happening, with some joining in.
Mass was just starting when I got there. I quickly counted the people, a professional bad habit I have, and concluded that there were well over around 400 people there including many young people and children. Most had lit candles they were holding during the mass.
Next to me was a seven-year old boy mesmerized by the candle I had bought for three Quetzales, about 35 cents when I arrived. After a while I gave the boy my candle and he responded with a big smile as did his father.
In different places around the square were various fast-food outlets, a good half dozen of them. I'm not sure whether the CWL and the KC's were there but similar charitable organizations were at the ready after Mass.
The singing was led by a group of eight young people with guitars and violins. They were very good and sounded very professional.
After a brief introduction the priest walked around blessing people and candles with a bucket of water that he sprayed around with his hand.
He spoke mainly about Mary and her role in bringing about the Saviour of the world. He mentioned how vulnerable she was with the awesome job God asked her to undertake.
Her faith made her able to respond positively to God's call. He invited us to be people of faith, of trust and of courage like she was, believing in our potential to overcome adversity, contributing in making our world better and more just.
Luminous fireworksPeople listened respectfully while holding their candles and watching their children. After the service was over, a huge bang started off the fireworks. An impressive quantity of flares lighted the sky above us.
I suspect this small parish might have outdone Edmonton's much criticized fire-works effort of last summer, as new varieties of fire works continued mesmerizing us for a good fifteen minutes.
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries of the world. When they celebrate though they don't seem to be bothered with costs.
Returning to my little room in a family home, I thought about these people who have been oppressed by adversity of the worse kind with tens of thousands of country people murdered in the last 20 years by a regime that would have made Hitler envious.
I thought of how these people are bouncing back to a great degree thanks to people like Rigoberta Menchu who led a resistance against the likes of General Rios Montts' cruelty by speaking out courageously on behalf of her oppressed people, making the whole world aware of the tragedy. She was recognized by the United Nations by giving her the peace prize several years ago.
Being here is like being on holy ground where the blood of countless martyrs has been shed with impunity for many long years. May God continue to bless this still very suffering nation of 12 million people, a country 1/6th the size of Alberta.
I've seldom if ever seen the Eucharist celebrated in the bustling heart of the city the way I saw it that night. The secular and the religious met and held hands for a while.
Underlining an important spiritual moment in a public setting seemed a very normal thing to do. Faith and life came together very naturally, with no stress at all. When the Eucharist was over, people moved toward the food outlets and with a cup of coffee and a bit of something to eat they continued their celebration.
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