Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Walking

Tonight I rest tired feet after walking in both Good Friday processions.  First comes the Via Crucis, Stations of the Cross.  It's a fairly short procession in mileage, perhaps half a mile, but slow and in its Good Friday version very elaborate.  We all walk, men in the middle, women on the sides, following the statue of Jesus carrying the cross that, in turn, is carried by eight men.  The stations, beautifully decorated, come about one per block - but because I was in the middle of the procession we often stopped for one station when I was looking at the altar for the previous one.

There was a long pause at the 4th station, where Jesus meets his mother - a long pause so that the statue of Maria Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows, could come up and bow before Jesus (women carry the statue of Mary).  She's followed by St. John, carried by men.  Then at the 6th station Veronica (women again) comes out to wipe the face of Jesus and, in a little magic trick, reveals his image.  They all fall in line - Mary, John, Veronica - as we complete the stations, stopping at each station for a reading, a short interpretation, and prayer.

Finally we all came into the church where Jesus, Mary, John and Veronica took their places in front of a purple curtain that hides the altar (it will be dramatically pulled away during the Easter Vigil tomorrow night):
This procession took about two hours, from 10 to noon, in very hot sun.  Water sellers were doing a brisk business - I was glad I'd remembered my water bottle.

Then after a moving Celebration of the Passion and Veneration of the Cross - and a quick supper - I returned for the Santo Entierro.  I've never gone on this procession before, but this was the year for walking.  This time the men - I hope it was a new group, but I'm not sure - were carrying a heavy wooden coffin topped by a glass case holding Jesus, dead.   For quite a while, hearing a motor noise, I assumed there was a truck of some kind doing the carrying, but when I drew closer I discovered that this was a rolling generator following along behind so the coffin - and Mary following behind - could be brilliantly lit.  We walked from the church, over several alfombras (carpets) of bark and colored salts that had been created in the afternoon to be walked over by the procession:
It turned out to be a long walk - from the church, over several alfombras, then down along the road that leads to the hospital and the graveyard (we paused and prayed at both places) and back up the hill into Suchi's El Centro, and back into the church, where Jesus came to rest.  As we were getting close to the church, I began to worry about the men carrying Jesus, who looked almost spent - but they made it.  Then the coffin was placed on a rolling base and slowly steered down the aisle.  It was almost too big to fit, and at one point there was an ominous crunch, some quick consultations, and a bit of redirection accompanied, of course, by "dé le!" - the ubiquitous Salvadoran male language for directing cars, trucks, or stuck floats. 

The procession was probably about 3 miles in total, a good walk and a slow walk, which is good for me!  As I walked, I thought how much I will miss these processions next year when I'm back in the U.S.  Politely sitting in church - much as I love creative liturgies in the U.S. - doesn't have the same body power as walking in noonday heat and evening darkness with your friends and neighbors, following Jesus.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Processing with palms and donkey

I have finally, by accident, figured out how to do Palm Sunday right here in Suchitoto.  In previous years, I've skipped the procession of palms in favor of getting an actual seat in the church, which you can only do if you're there before the palm-bearers arrive. 

This year I went to Mass Saturday night, not realizing that it would be the Sunday readings - but it was, a Palm Sunday Mass minus the palms - and plus songs and ¡Que Viva! for Monseñor Romero.  That left me free to walk down the street this morning to the Capilla la Cruz where we all gathered on the cancha (basketball court) and where I bought a puny bunch of palm leaves for a quarter.

Most everyone there had glorious palms, interwoven with flowers and a seedhead that looks like baby corn.  My puny bunch would have looked impressive in Seattle, but here ... not so great.  It felt as if everyone in Suchitoto was there, whole families and children, like this charmer:
You might notice that she has woven and beaded bracelets on both wrists.  These must stretch back to the days of the Lenca and the Pipiles: each red bracelet is threaded through a small, smooth stone, and their purpose is to keep the baby safe and whole. 

After a few songs, the padres came down through the crowd and sprinkled us and the palms and anything else sprinklable with gallons of holy water.  No tame drops here.  The acolyte holds a huge tub of water, the padres have thickly-leaved branches, and they scoop the water up and fling it out into the crowd with a will:
In truth, in the hot sun of March, it's a joy to be drenched with holy water!  My camera was also blessed, and survived the blessing.

We were all ready to go after that, and Padre Jesus had to remind us that we were supposed to hear the Gospel for the procession first.  And then we formed into lines - as always here, and it makes my gringa heart a little crazy, the men marched in the middle after the donkey carrying the statue of Jesus, and the women marched in two lines on either side.  I'd just once like to see the lines reversed, women in the center, men on the outside.   But perhaps that's not yet an image our church can stretch to, at least not in Latino America. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Monseñor, vives hoy

This video by Fabrizio Villegas includes powerful moments and images from Monseñor Oscar Romero's life.  I especially love that it begins with one of my favorite nuns here, tiny Sr. Benedita, touring us through Monseñor's house on the grounds of the Hospitalito (Hospital Divina Providencia, where he lived and died).  Then, about 4:07 minutes in, close to the end, there's video of Monseñor's visit to one of the many slums built along abandoned railroad tracks (because that was and is public ground, unused, and an easy place to take possession and build a shack of cardboard and tin) - perhaps the railroad tracks near the church Maria, Madre de los Pobres in the La Chacra neighborhood of San Salvador.  I'm moved by the three unidentified Sisters who accompany Monseñor, clearly Sisters who work in this slum and are showing him around.  It reminds me that communities of women religious have long been present with the poorest among us.

We celebrated Monseñor Romero's life and martyrdom today, on the eve of the day he died (since tomorrow is Palm Sunday).  I missed the main celebration - apparently the Archbishop was here in Suchitoto and it was a grand celebration, but I was on an errand of mercy in the capital, and was too late to join in - but the evening Mass was also dedicated to Monseñor on the 33rd anniversary of his death.  After communion the choir sang one of my favorite canciones (words and music by Alvar Castillo) - the chorus is:

Monseñor vives hoy
en el corazon
del pueblo que tanto te amó.
Monseñor tu verdad
nos hace marchar
a la victoria final.

Monseñor you live today
in the heart
of the people who loved you so much.
Monseñor your truth
makes us march
toward the final victory.

And at the end of the mass we all proclaimed together "Que vive Monseñor Romero!  Que vive!"  With the election of Pope Francis, with his passion for the poor, Salvadorans have hope that the canonization of Monseñor Romero will take place at last - but then the people have always known that he is San Romero de las Americas, pastor, prophet and martyr for the people he loved so much.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Doing it right

Our eye surgery mission - a week of cataract and pterygium surgeries that follows up the general medical mission - always begins with a good long list of people who qualify for surgery, according to our optometrists, and who say that yes, they want to have the surgery.  But year after year, we've seen only half the people on our list show up, in spite of info calls and transportation provided.  We have gathered that people are frightened, and that often their families discourage them from going.

Last year we asked Iris Chacon, our wonderful coordinator for San Rafael Cedros, how she thought we could do better, and she suggested that we have a meeting for everyone on the list where they could ask questions and could hear from someone who had the surgery. 

So this year, we invited everyone who qualified for surgery to come to the meeting, held last Sunday in the biggest school in Estanzuelas - and we had a great crowd!  There were probably about 75 people there, 47 of them patients on our list, to hear Lito of San Rafael Cedros talk about his successful cataract surgery, to hear Iris talk about the importance of family support, to hear Darren sum up the steps they would be going through on their surgery day and to hear Marvin remind them where to gather on the morning of the surgery.

Here's Marvin with a very old gentleman who moved right up next to him to hear everything clearly:

And then we got the questions!  Can I still sleep in a hammock?  How long does my father have to wait after hernia surgery before he has eye surgery?  Do I have to keep my head turned up to the sky for two weeks?  Is there a special diet I have to follow?  We were able to put many fears to rest!
And there were a lot of internal conversations, for example among this group of women who checked up with each other about everything that was said:
This is a town where many of the seniors have never learned to read, so it was especially important to share all the information in a meeting - and to send them home with copies that their younger family members could read.

So thank you, Iris, for steering us in the right direction.  Having a pre-meeting for the surgery patients will be part of our practice from now on!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Maria del Carmen almost mobile!

Maria del Carmen has now had surgery on the right leg. the one she broke, and the left leg, where she tore tendons, has been freed from its cast.  In fact, she now has two visible legs, for the first time in a month, but she still can only use the left leg.  As you can imagine, after a month of having both legs elevated with minimal movement, it's going to take a while to build up the muscles in the left leg again, and she thinks it will be another month before she's allowed to put any weight on the right leg.  I picked up a walker for her to use - it will return to our PeaceHealth bodega when she no longer needs it - and hope that she'll soon be hobbling about. 

It's a long slow process!  But she is in a good situation right now, staying in her sister's house in Ilopango, in a little room that is right off the kitchen/dining area, so she's right in the middle of everything.  It's a bonus that her 94-year-old father and her stepmother are also staying there for a prolonged visit - in addition to her sister's son, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. 

I'd love to share a photo, but Maria del Carmen has steadfastly refused to have any photos taken during this time.  But her spirits are good: after some mourning on the day of the break, as she realized all the changes this was going to mean in her life, I haven't heard one complaint from her (well, not quite: there was a fairly passionate complaint about unresponsive nursing in the Zacatecoluca hospital).  She's clear, determined, and looking for the finger of God along this unexpected pathway.