Saturday, April 06, 2013

A starry night, the Black Christ, and a friend

Thursday night the lights went out at about 6:00 pm. They came back on at about 6:45 and then went out again until about 9:30.

This is not uncommon here.

Since I had virtually nothing in the house to eat I decided to go out to Weekend’s Pizza, in the hope that they would be serving. And they were, with the help of a generator.

But I walked home in the dark – to a beautiful starry sky. The heavens subtly proclaimed the glory of God.

I got up Friday to go to Esquipulas, Guatemala, the shrine of the Black Christ, and to meet a friend I hadn’t seen for twenty three years.

The trip went well, except for hassles at Guatemala migration office. That’s another issue, best left untold.

I parked my truck in Esquipulas and as I was approaching the basilica I got a call from Gustavo.

We finally found each other and hugged each other. He introduced me to his wife and youngest daughter and we went off to eat lunch.

After lunch we found a place to stay and then headed for the basilica and the image of the Black Christ. The black crucified Christ is part of four statues of the crucifixion scene.

I had been in Esquipulas once before with a group of employees of Caritas but there were a lot more people here this time.

This time, there were many pilgrims, some advancing to the statues on their knees and most backing away, walking with their faces toward the statues. I was touched by several indigenous family groups who were praying as they advanced on their knees – men, women, young and old, even a few kids. Their deep faith puts me to shame.

A real highlight of the visit was the chance to talk with Gustavo. He had fled to the US from Guatemala after escaping from a prison in a military base. He had told me the story when he was staying with me in Ames, waiting to be accepted into Canada as a refugee. (At that time the US was giving political asylum to a miniscule number of applicants from Guatemala and El Salvador, despite the terror people were suffering from the right-wing governments there, that in Guatemala should have been called terrorist.)

But Gustavo told me that there have been recent excavations of that military base and over 200 skeletons of victims have been found in mass graves. He escaped or he probably would have been one of those skeletons. A report of the excavation site can be found here.

We didn’t talk more about that or about the history of his life that I tell him he should write.

We talked as old friends (even though he’s only 53). And he and his wife told me about his four children and seven grandchildren.

It was a blessed afternoon and evening.

We got up early and I left for Honduras, taking a different route so that I could stop in Dulce Nombre. It was longer, but the roads in Guatemala are incredibly better than those in Honduras. It was a little calmer, not having to maneuver the car to avoid the hundreds of potholes we find here.

I got to Dulce Nombre, but not before passing through and stopping in Quebraditas where I greeted the people meeting in a church sector meeting and talked to some of the young people in the Maestro en Casa classes being held there.

In Dulce Nombre I met briefly with folks in a zone meeting.

I did, though, have one interesting discussion with Hector, from one of the villages. He asked if there were funds for personal projects. After a few questions I discovered that he was concerned about some elderly people whose homes are mere shacks and who have many needs. I gave him a few suggestions, urging him to bring the concerns to the local church council so that they can prioritize the needs and see what they can do by themselves – without outside help. I volunteered to go out and meet with them after they themselves had talked about the five families. I’m trying to help the people find ways to do things without depending on outside sources – whether local governments or other groups – unless it’s really needed. This is probably new for them – but I think it’s worth the effort to help them think this through.

And so now, Saturday night, I’m sitting writing at my home in Santa Rosa about the past 48 hours, grateful for almost everything (except for the Guatemala migration office!)

But what’s to complain about. Complaining only closes us to possibilities and turns us in on ourselves, as Pope Francis suggested in a homily this week on the Gospel of the Road to Emmaus.

Jesus helped them see the possibilities and the hope. The starry night, the black Christ, Gustavo and his family, and the people in the Dulce Nombre parish help me do this.

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