The Kingdom of God in Guatemala, II
Following a fine sleep and a hearty breakfast prepared by Sister Rosita in the convent of the Sisters of Charity, it was time to get back to Tzucubal for the first of three funeral Masses for Padre David. My driver since Wednesday was the parish deacon, Ovidio, a young guy, soon to be a priest himself, learning the ropes with Padre Nicasio and the communities of Antigua Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán. We load ourselves into the pickup and head back up the road, arriving amidst a growing crowd both within and without. To one side, ladies are preparing the meal to be served following Mass, to another a line-up of perhaps twenty altar servers, boys and girls vested in white with large purple satin stoles front and back. At the entrance to the church, steady movement of people young and old, men and women, through the large wood doors of the building. This "going in" moves me; it is "the open door policy" of the place and so many taking advantage of those open doors, hungering, thirsting, longing to be close to God and close to one from God who loved as best he could like God. This is what a church is supposed to be. And here they've got it. "Jesus saw the crowds and was moved with compassion..." (Matthew 15:32 for example) is how the "feeding miracles" in the Gospels often begin. This feels like that moment: seeing the crowds that are coming in and finding nourishment there.
We enter along with the people; I have been designated the principal celebrant and homilist, and the whole liturgy unfolds as I remember from past years: a mix of Spanish and K'iche', most hymns in Spanish, but a few still in K'iche', microphones in abundance and massive stacks of loudspeakers to amplify the choir to the maximum without the building exploding from the shear force of the soundwaves banging off of every hard surface. But mostly the people: the ladies for the most part still dressed in their traditional traje, colorful huipiles and ankle-length blue-denim cortes, most with heads covered by their multi-purpose shawls. Most of the men, but not all, have abandoned the use of their typical traje, replaced by much less expensive shirts and long pants. Some of the young girls are now using makeup, which is one small sign that things here are indeed changing. But far more important than their clothing, the expressions on their faces as they attend to the liturgy express lives of hard work beyond anything we have ever known, their wrinkles are deep and sun-baked in. Their eyes clouded by years of tending to fires indoors to cook and warm themselves. The tears of grief slip out and curl down the furrows in their cheeks, their hands raised in prayer, their lips quivering with the words of those prayers. Man, Kingdom of God here as from this altar, I look out. This is what Jesus saw when he saw those crowds coming to him, I can only presume.
At Communion, we feed that beautiful crowd with Jesus' love made flesh...made bread. And it is a real "communion" among us all: sharing together our common grief, sharing together our common hunger, sharing together maybe most of all, our common trust that Jesus is with us especially here and now. And he is: you can feel it. "The Kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark 1:15)
As we finish, I am mobbed by people wanting to take pictures with me. This is not the rock-star kind of fan-craziness one sees in Hollywood or on Broadway. It is something very different; they tell me up front that I remind them of Padre David: the color of my skin, my white hair, similar body-types, same accent. They want a picture with me because they are trying to hold on to Padre David. It makes them happy so I oblige happily; I stand in place smiling as they crowd to be next...even telling me which of the multiple cell-phones pointed at me is the one to look towards. This would continue throughout the remainder of my days and hours among them, right up to my departure a week later. I am not annoyed or bothered, except when their crowding becomes dangerous to the little ones or elders among them; I am happy for them and occasionally remind them to step back, one at a time, form a line, mostly to no great avail.
After all have eaten the meal prepared by the ladies, the next procession forms; David's casket is solemnly carried out of the church and placed in a soul-red Mazda, his hearse for the day, and soon we are on our way in long procession to the next village of Simajutiu, located up the highway and down the hill into a valley not far from that of Antigua Santa Catarina. As before, we are welcomed by more crowds; there are two chapels here, so the rest of this day vigil will be held in one up the hill while tomorrow, Mass will be celebrated in the other, the basement of a much bigger chapel still under construction. We follow David's casket as it is once again carried on the shoulders of four men and enter the "Dios Es Amor" community's chapel for the next round of hymns, reflections, memories, embraces, tears, and hands raised in passionate prayer. Once again, I am asked to speak and I take the mic and pretty much repeat what I have said all along: "Padre David loved you, but he was sustained by your love for him." Outside, more photos until I can break away and join Deacon Ovidio for the ride to Antigua Santa Catarina further down into the valley.
As we drive in, it is late in the day and there is a tranquility in the air as men and women go about their tasks of preparing for tomorrow's arrival of Padre David's remains. Some men are still at work constructing the arch near the church, others are sweeping the streets and picking up clutter, still others are setting back in place large stones along a path leading to the entrance of the church. Women are within the church arranging flowers at the altar and smaller bouquets at the end of each pew, others are hanging large half-curtains from the ceiling or stringing together balloons to be attached to them, still others are wet-mopping the tile floor. A few men are putting the final touches on the new chapel that has been built over the past fifteen days to hold the remains of Padre David. And everyone is working together, smiling, shedding an occasional tear, embracing, collaborating, getting it done together. This is how it is supposed to be, is it not? For all of us? If the world could learn from these people how to work together, how to be together, well, we'd be a lot closer to the Paradise we lost than the Apocalypse we face.
Almost immediately, I am greeted and welcomed by anyone and everyone. They embrace me. They are glad I am here. More than glad, actually; they say they need me here to help share in the grief and hold them up. I already know they are holding me up. When I say embrace or hug, I'm not talking about little, polite hugs (maybe with a couple of air-kisses as in the West!); no, I am talking about full, deep, long embraces, arms wrapped around me and my own wrapped around them, Faces buried in my chest. Silence. Tears. Sometimes a few words whispered about Padre David, what he did for them when they were sick or their house was destroyed, or their child needed an operation. Padre David who loved us...who loved me. And then, of course, more photos.
And so it goes through the evening and into the night. I escape the photos for dinner, but even then, more are coming to the door to greet me, hug me, take a picture with me. It is almost bedtime and I am heading towards my room up on the second floor and even there, some have gotten into the building from the other side and come up to my room to greet, hug, give me gifts, weep. Once I get to bed, I sleep in the peace of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, which is to say, the peace of the Kingdom of God.