But we will not find Jesus in tombs or in any place that is ruled by violence, self satisfaction, greed, or any institution that deals in death and lies. We find him out in the world, specifically in Galilee, that is, among the poor, the workers, those struggling for a way to survive in an unjust world, our neighbors, believers and unbelievers alike, whom we have known and who have known us always. We will see him there.Megan McKenna, Lent: The Sunday Readings, p. 211
This year I celebrated the Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil in the town of Vera Cruz, Copán. Appropriately, Vera Cruz means the “True Cross.”
Vera Cruz is one of the municipalities in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. I’ve been there before a few times, but this time I noticed the poverty of this town of abut 1000 people which is the municipio, the “county” seat of the municipality. Many of the houses in town are of adobe (mud blocks) or bahareque (walls of horizontal sticks with mud between them).
It’s poor in other ways – including its pastoral life. The one celebrator of the Word was suspended for a year because he got involved publicly in partisan politics. (Partisan politics is so divisive that many parishes have placed limits on pastoral workers getting involved, which is probably good.) A celebrator from a nearby village has been helping, but there is a real dearth of initiative among the people in Vera Cruz. It was sad.
But the three days of the Easter Triduum were filled with prayer. I was privileged to be able to bring the Eucharist so that the people could have communion at the services.
It began at 7 pm on Holy Thursday. I had the celebrator take charge of the Liturgy of the Word, even though I shared a reflection.After the reflection we had the washing of the feet. I ended up washing the feet of twelve members of the congregation – from an infant to an old man. This was not merely an aesthetic exercise for at least of the boys had dirty feet (as the towel we used testified). After I washed the twelve I invited others to come forward to wash feet. Only two men came forward and I had to strongly encourage an older woman to come forward to let her feet be washed. The people in this town seem rather timid – another sign of poverty.
Here I am washing the feet. Since I was going to distribute communion I was vested in a borrowed alb.
After the celebration there was the first of many processions. This was the procession of desprendimiento, I think. I’ll translate it as the “leave-taking” procession since the men went off on one way with an image of Jesus and the women went off on another route with a statue of Mary, the sorrowful Mother. They met up three times at which the two images “bowed” three times to each other.
After the procession we had a holy hour of adoration of the Eucharist until 10 pm.
The next day was even more filled with events showing the faith of the people.
Stations of the Cross throughout town began at 9 in the morning. At 2 pm there was supposed to be a service of anointing of the body of Christ, but plans changed and it was inserted into the 3 pm liturgy before the veneration of the cross.
The anointing was a rite of popular piety I had never seen. Cotton is soaked with perfumed oil and two young women anointed a small crucifix. I thought this strange until I found out that many statues were stolen from the church abut three years ago and one of them was the image of the dead Christ which is carried in processions in a glass coffin in many places, as can be seen in this image from Santa Rosa two years ago.
The ritual is remembering the role of the women in anointing the body of Jesus after he was taken down from the Cross. (The anointing stone is a special shrine in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.)
After the anointing people were given pieces of the cotton after they venerated the Cross.
After the service there was the procession of the Santo Entierro, the Holy Entombment. The glass coffin was carried throughout the streets of Vera Cruz.
Later that evening, about 8, there was the procession of Soledad, of desolation. The Cross is carried by women accompanied by an image of Mary in complete silence.
Saturday was quiet until the Vigil which was supposed to start at 7 pm. Almost no one was there at 7, not even the choir and the musical group; even the celebrator of the word arrived after 7. They had not even arranged where they were going to have the Easter fire! (All this severely tested my gringo anal-retentiveness, but I got over it.)
But all went well. The fire was started in a street and we processed into the darkened church.
I had managed to find a sung version of the “Exultet,” the Paschal hymn, in Spanish. I didn’t trust my sight reading but I had a recording of the version by Jaime Cortes; so I listened to it on my iPod while I sang it aloud. A type of karaoke, I guess.
We read all the readings, after which we had the service of water. I was filled with a deep sense of Christ’s victory over death and shared a short reflection, mostly using a meditation of Carlo Carretto on the Risen Life. (See the previous post)
We had some blessed water which we used for sprinkling the people after the renewal of baptismal promises. I know I surprised the people since I sprinkled - rather soaked – the people with the water. (I am no minimalist when it comes to religious symbolism.)
The liturgy ended with Communion.
I got to bed relatively early and slept in until almost 7 am. The morning service was at 9:30 but started about 20 minutes late with a smaller crowd. The Gospel begins with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb very early. As I shared my reflection I noted how the women here are almost always the first up – preparing breakfast for the household. And so I asked a few women when they got up. Two older women said 4 am! One middle-aged woman said 6 am, but noted that was only on Sunday, since she usually got up at 5! The women work long and hard here – and in many places in the world of the poor.
The celebration ended and the people wished me goodbye. One poor old woman came up to me and gave me a folded up bill – five lempiras, about 27 cents. That generosity touched me deeply. The widow’s mite!
I left after lunch with a family who send their kids to school. Two have graduated from high school; two guys are in a high school in a nearby town; one girl is going to school in San Pedro Sula. I went to the main road to catch a bus with three members of the family who were going to San Pedro Sula. Two of them work there and their sister is studying there.
One of them, a bright young woman who has finished high school is working in a maquila, one of the clothing factories so prominent in Honduras. I asked her the name of the company. “Fruit,” she answered. Yes, Fruit of the Loom. From what she told me, it seems that she is one of the workers who operates machines that hem collars and cuffs on long sleeve sweat shirts. (Remember her the next time you put on your “Fruit of the Loom.”)
I had also met the son of another person in Vera Cruz who was home for Holy Week. He works in a clothing factory in Tegucigalpa, carrying the cloth from one place to another in the factory. He said his salary was good, but it’s only 200 lempiras a day, about $10.20.
Vera Cruz has touched me. The poverty is so evident – not only the poor houses and unpaved streets, but the low spirits of the people involved in the life of the church. I pray that God acted through me to give them a little more spirit.
I’ll be back there a few times more this year. First of all because a United Church of Christ congregation in West Des Moines is committed to help the people rebuild their church.
I pray that these efforts may give the people a deeper sense of their worth and their capabilities.
And so this has been somewhat of a sad Easter – not because I do not have hope and faith in the resurrection of Jesus, but because the victory of life over death seems so far from the lives of so many people.
Perhaps this is a realistic view of the Risen Lord and the life of the Church. Suffering abounds, but we must let the Lord build up hope with and through us.
Other Holy Week photos can be found in my Holy Seek 2010 Flickr set.