Padre German sent me to Debajiados for Ash Wednesday.
It’s one of the most remote villages, about twenty kilometers from Dulce Nombre. To get there you have to go almost to the top of a mountain and then take a road that goes down into valley for a few kilometers. They have water, but they are just not getting electricity.
I got there and was immediately besieged by about 6 kids who had been in the school next to the little church.
The young teacher, who just began last month and has only a high school degree in business administration, has about 18 kids in five grades.
Only one person was at the church, but soon people came – mostly women and a few kids. Three men in the music group were there and a few guys hung around the back for a while and then left. (Outreach to young guys is going to be a real challenge throughout the parish.)
We were going to have a Celebration of the Word with distribution of ashes and communion.
I began the celebration with a few questions about Ash Wednesday and Lent. The group was surprisingly participative; two women were very talkative and knew a lot.
I wanted to discuss the three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Talking about prayer was easy enough.
But then there was the problem of fasting. I explained that the church discipline of fasting is three meals, without snacks. They are accustomed to think of fasting as not eating all day.
But then I asked them about abstaining from meat. “How often do you have meat?” I asked. “Once a year, usually, for Christmas.” I asked them if this meant they didn’t eat chicken. “Yes,” they said.
Then I talked about almsgiving, trying to give them an idea that this doesn’t just mean giving money. It means sharing, being in solidarity with others. I gave the example of someone who didn’t have beans; they could decide that all of them share a few beans; that would help someone in need.
In many ways I was humbled by this experience. It also reaffirmed my vegetarianism, which is not based on either health issues or animal rights. I stopped eating meat in 1976 out of solidarity with the poor, not wanting to take away basic grains to feed cattle and leaving so many without. I still hold to that – even though I realize that it’s not a direct correlation. But not eating meat is one very small way I can share with those in need.
Another humbling aspect of my visit in Debajiados. they had lunch for me - coffee, beans, tortillas, and eggs with pacaya. I didn't eat much - which surprised them - but it was a meal shared with love.
And so Lent begins for me.
The folks in Debajiados will probably long remember my reading of today's Gospel. Jesus tells us to perfume our heads while fasting "perfumate tu cabeza." I read it too fast and said "perfumate tu caballo" - perfume your horse.
At lunch I talked with a few people, including two young men who had never gone to school. One, 16 years old, is starting first grade this year. I commended him for this.
The woman who had made lunch noted that she and many in the village could neither read nor write, though some could read but not write. A pastoral worker soon told me why.
This village did not have a school until about four years ago.