Last week, I got to experience one of the most powerful demonstrations of religion that I’ve ever seen. Right now, we are in Cuaresma, or Lent. Lent is a 40 day Christian holiday which pays respect to Jesus, who spent 40 days in the wilderness. Usually, you should give up something or change your behavior (i.e. doing community service) for Lent. This year, I didn’t give up anything because I feel that I have given up a lot being here in Guatemala. Anyways, so every Sunday of Cuaresma in Antigua there are processions that are epic. These processions are leading up to Semana Santa, or Holy Week which is next Thursday (April 17) and ends on Easter, (April 20). This Sunday is Palm Sunday, so I want to go see people lay the palms in the street for Jesus like they did in the Bible.
Each procesion has a theme, and the one I saw was Jesú Caída, or Fallen Jesus. Fallen Jesus is one of the biggest processions of Semana Santa. It started at 6am and it goes on all day and night long, until about 1am. However, because it rained (side note: when it rains, it POURS in Guatemala), the procession ended at 10-11 pm. Anyways, it was honestly inspiring and moving to see how Jesus can impact people. They play beautiful orchestral music that is so somber, every time I hear it, I want to cry. It is so moving to see people carry heavy floats in the name of the Lord, and to thank Him for blessings. Thousands of people came to see the procession, and hundreds more participated. There are alfombras, which are carpets made of colored shaved wood. They are beautiful and are left to be displayed in the streets. They usually get walked over during the procession, so there is time before the procession starts to view them.
Women carrying La Virgen
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There were men dressed as the soliders of Pontius Pilate. They carried the stations of the cross and showed the different stages of the life of Jesus in paintings. There were men wearing camuchos, which kind of looks like the KKK uniform but in purple, black, and burgundy. Then, the biggest float came that had Jesus and Satan wrapped in chain with a 3 headed monster that blew out smoke. The men carry the float with Jesus and they have to march/sway when they carry it. The men always have very intense faces when carrying the float. The women carry the float with La Virgen but they look at peace. According to Guatemalans, men have intense faces because they have a lot of sin and that is what makes the float heavier. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily true, but I’ll go with it.
The men carrying the float of Jesú Caída
Chilling with my homies at Semana Santa
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Ironically, we were trying to avoid the procession because it blocks off traffic and its a nightmare to get out of Antigua. It’s kind of like the Disneyland parades where once they’re going on, everything shuts down. Anyways, as we were trying to leave Antigua, the procession started right in front of us. A band was singing in front of the church this beautiful song, the only lyrics I could understand were: El Señor puede, mi fortaleza es tú, Señor/ mis pensamientos es tú, Señor (Translation: The Lord can, the Lord is my strength, my thoughts are of you, Lord). FRONT ROW AT THE PROCESSION! What an amazing experience. I was covered with incense and was right in the midst of it all. I got to see everyone line up, walk, and then see the floats. Then, there was a misa (mass) where the sacerdote (priest of Catholic church) blesses the procession. The theme of the mass was respecting the value of life as well as respecting every person on Earth. He said, there is a lack of respect for life in Guatemala, because of the high rate of murders that happen. The priest said anyone who follows Jesus must respect life. He called on every person to respect life and to respect the cultures and traditions of Semana Santa. He blessed the crowd and the procession carried on. The mass reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses:
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this to you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?…” ~ 1 Peter 3:8-17
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I feel like being in Guatemala has strengthened my faith in God, but also my faith in myself. I really feel God in this country, especially when I am in Catholic churches. I’ve contemplated converting to Catholicism, but hey, poco a poco. Every day, I find myself having to walk on faith many times a day. I came here without knowing who or what would await me, but knowing that God will provide for me. And thus far, I see that. I am blessed to be here. I am blessed that my friends here are amazing individuals. Our Spanish teachers, Peace Corps staff, are so open and helpful. They look after us and have made the transition from the US to here a lot easier. My home stay family are kind and loving people. God is good, even when we were robbed, even when I’ve been sick, and lost, and even sad at times. But I feel called to be here, each and every day. Not only that, but I’ve seen so many people around me walk on faith. It’s something that I’ve identified as very Guatemalan, but also very human. There is so much uncertainty in the world, and the only thing that is certain is that we must always give thanks and use every day to be better people and find ways to make life better for other people.
“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” ~ Hebrews 11:1
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Today, I found out where I will be living for the next two years of my life. For safety reasons, we are not allowed to post the name of our site, but I will be living in the department of Totonicipán. Toto, as it is called short hand, is the department most severely impacted by chronic malnutrition and has high rates of infant mortality in Guatemala. I am not prepared for the things that I may see and hear, but I am going into it with an open heart and with an open mind. I am happy to be here and to learn more about what I can do to help other people. I thank God for bringing me here, and for helping me to become a better person. There are moments when I miss my old life, and I miss Los Angeles more than anything. But most days, I know that I am supposed to be here. There are too many signs that I am supposed to be here. I’m grateful for this moment to explore the world, and explore myself.
Even though this post is very heavily laced with religion, I hope that non-religious people can relate to it. I’m really learning more about faith, and I hope that its something anyone can learn to adopt. In a way, being in the Peace Corps forces you to have faith. There are moments (read: riding on the camioneta) where it seems like everything can and will go wrong. But you just have to have hope and faith that everything will be fine (it is going to be okay because I am alive and writing this now, right?).
So much in my life is constantly changing and out of my control. But one place where I feel is constant is God’s love, which is everywhere if you can find it, feel it, and spread it to others. The next few weeks will be a whirlwind until I’m in site. I’m so excited to leave, but I will also severely miss my friends in training #MTOWNVICIOUS and my family, especially Sofía and Dany. I love my home stay siblings as if they were my blood. Thankfully, we do get to come back and I get to be here for Sofí’s 4th birthday! This week has been nuts: we had our community activity, present tomorrow on readiness to serve, and yesterday we went to a special needs school and did a morning full of activities — that was amazing. One of the teachers was in an accident and was severely paralyzed. She went through intensive therapy and she is walking and fine. Her son was born with severe cerebral palsy, and he is fine and helped construct a school for special needs children. Truly, a miracle and a testament to the power of prayer and medicine.
Us at Centro Keramion
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So yeah, all my posts are long but its because there’s so much to say and process in so little time!
Sending much love and positivity back to the States… I’m terribly missing Mexican food, froyo, and Coachella!