Dec 24, 2016
Yesterday, the main cathedral in town, reopened after some years of reconstruction. The cathedral faces the central plaza and the municipal government building. There had been several days leading up to the reopening of the church but I was unaware of the significance due to my limited Spanish/K’iche and because I haven’t really met anyone directly involved with the church.
I was surprised to see how many people came from the surrounding hillside hamlets and nearby towns, all heading into the town’s main plaza. Usually the plaza is filled with vendors on market days but the markets were suspended for a few days. In short time, the plaza was filled with about a thousand people and more continued to arrive all morning. Some sat under canopies, some in the shade of the municipal building hallway, but many found places under the sun. Everyone’s gaze was upon the opening ceremonies which consisted of blessings and invocations, speeches and a youth orchestra and vocalists.
I was struck by the unflinching dedication of these Catholics to their faith. Then suddenly to my surprise, the doors of the church opened! By then the number of people had swollen to at least two thousand people and probably half of them were able to enter the huge cathedral. Forget fire codes, the church was jammed packed.
When the church filled to overflowing, even more people observes mass outdoors, listening to the giant speakers that were set up for that purpose. Many traditional women wear something over their head as a sign of respect. What a day for me to wear jeans; I didn’t know the church was opening! At the moment of the consecration of the eucharist and wine, the entire congregation, including the ones outdoors, knelt down.
There were men assigned to explode fireworks at this sacred moment of the mass—fireworks that sound like bombs and are in fact called, bombas. The bomba is dropped into a standing tube and when its long wick is lit, the man runs away quickly. Several bombas were set off. Bombas are not only set off for mass, they are set off on every holiday and just randomly, morning, noon and night, especially night. It’s LOUD but it’s all in fun.
A few minutes later, a procession of Catholic lay workers emerged down the church steps holding tall poles adorned with shiny gold paper eucharists. They branched off into the crowd to distribute holy communion. Being such a sacred, intimate experience for the parishioner, I thought for a moment that I shouldn’t take photographs. But I could not hold back. I want to share these images with viewers that can perhaps be touched by their sacred beauty.
As mass ended, there was a very long time given to recognize the people that had helped the church in its reconstruction and care of the congregation. As a few people filtered out, I was able to slip into the still crowded church. It is beautiful inside! Not only is it physically beautiful, it is also a cool oasis from the hot sun.
A number of people were documenting the occasion with iphones, cameras, and videocameras both casually and officially. People were undaunted by the blazing cameras.
A K’iche friend told me that some elders from rural areas prefer to go barefoot even though they can well afford to buy shoes. It’s just a preference. My friend advises her own grandmother to wear shoes but her words go unheeded.
After the service, people went in many different directions to find food and drinks for their families. They had, after all, been sitting for hours, many with small children. I saw a barrel of empty tamale leaves on the sidewalk and wondered where I could find tamales for Christmas? On Christmas Eve Doña presented me with a giant tamal, Guatemalan style. But Mirian, her daughter, told me that on New Year’s Eve, Doña will make her own tamales and they will be much better than the Christmas Eve one. That’s something to look forward to!