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Church is life...

Posted: May 29, 2014

I noticed that everywhere we went; Church was not exclusively a Sunday activity. Church was life. It was a joyous, community celebration! It reminded me of my childhood in St. Paul. Sundays were for Mass and “visiting.” All six children would pile into the family station wagon after Mass and visit my grandparents. Usually, it involved a delicious dinner too! We would dress in our "Sunday clothes”… 

When we went to visit one of the aldeas, I was amazed by how beautifully they were dressed. All of the women and girls were wearing stunning traditional clothes. The men wore pressed shirts and pants. Some wore jeans, others wore dress pants. I felt completely underdressed in my walking shoes, t-shirt and shorts. I was dressed for a hike on a hot, summer day in the mountains. The congregation was dressed for church! I also considered that most of them had probably been walking for hours long before day break down dusty roads. Then they made a vertical climb straight up the mountain! There was no air conditioning and yet, they looked immaculate.

When we climbed to the top of the mountain, we saw the church. The small wooden framed building had a ceiling fan and a couple of windows. It was made of wood and bamboo. The floor was covered in sand with pine needles sprinkled across the top. It smelled so fresh, like a forest. There were wooden benches lined up in neat rows. The altar was breathtaking. It was covered in the most spectacular white and yellow flowers. At the foot of the altar was a wide assortment of gifts including rice, beans, corn and melons neatly piled in bags. Men playing in a band stood near the front playing music.

When we arrived there was a lot of excitement. Traveling with Fr. Pedro is like being in the company of a celebrity. There is great anticipation with his arrival. Because his parish covers a large geographic area, he may only be able to visit an aldea once every six months. Jaclyn and I sat down on a bench on the right side of the church. After a while, we noticed that all of the women sat on the left side and the men sat on the right side.

Fr. Pedro was not within sight. He had not yet entered the church. He was busy outside listening to confessions. About an hour had passed. People quietly filed out to meet with Fr. Pedro. A few late arrivals joined the procession to confession. After about 90 minutes, Fr. Pedro entered the small church which was packed by this time.

The music was playing. It reminded me of Maui. Many of the instruments were the same. Fr. Pedro put on his vestments and lit the stunning Pascal candle. The light filled the space. Even though I could not understand the words, I knew the ritual by heart. This is one of the amazing things I have enjoyed about attending Masses when I have traveled. It doesn’t matter where you are; the same prayers are said throughout the world even if they are spoken in a different language.

Then the Mass began. Fr. Pedro gave a passionate sermon and garnered some laughs as well. He has a good rapport with the people in the aldeas. When we were almost finished, a young woman was baptized. She looked beautiful in her traditional attire. Her parents and Godparents were gathered by the altar. It was an incredible thing to witness.

Afterwards we were invited to join a feast. A couple of the leaders of the church invited us to follow them to a small wooden structure. Inside there was a table with four chairs. We were the guests of honor. They brought each of us a bowl of soup with two chicken legs. I had been told that we were being offered an extremely generous gift so we needed to show our appreciation by drinking all of the broth and eating all of the chicken.

Chicken is rare luxury for the people in the aldeas. Most of their diet consists of rice, beans, corn and tortillas. We were also served hot, homemade tortillas and delicious coco. Fr. Pedro caught up on the news and introduced us. He also invited us to the altar after the Mass so we could be introduced to the village. The couple of lines I understood were St. Patrick’s and Minnesota. There was also a reference to snow!

Everyone enjoyed a lively conversation during the meal. I practiced the few words that I knew although most of the people in the village do not speak Spanish. What I have learned is that language is never a barrier when hospitality and love are extended. I had a sense of being blessed by these strangers that welcomed us with open arms.

Our hosts offered us so much food that none of us could finish even with our best efforts. Fr. Pedro did not want to offend them so he asked for a, “to go” box. Large, deep green leaves were cut and placed on the table. Our host carefully wrapped the chicken legs and tortilla shells inside of them. They were bound up by palm leaves. It looked like a stunning gift. We offered our thanks for the delicious meal. When we were ready to leave, there were hugs and handshakes. Then we packed up our backpacks and began the long climb down the mountain.