May 2o, 2oo7
10.06.2007 20 °C
Told you I´d post some old blogs... here is one from Baños.
Sunday, May 2oth, 2oo7
This afternoon I bought a single white taper from a candle-seller on the street and went into the large, beautiful stone Catholic Church located right on the main square here in Baños.
Mass was being conducted, but people entered and left freely. Babies cried lustily and children scurried around, yet there was still a collective air of reverance and faith that distinguishes a church. I chose a seat close to the front, beside two young adolescent boys, there by themselves.
Standing up in front, a 3o-something Ecuadorian man was speaking. His voice was even and reasurring, reaching even the parishoners in the back via the modern sound system. His hands were outstretched as he spoke of salvation. Even with the microphone, his voice was by no means loud, and the cries a dozen babies and children, the hushed whispers of the adults, and the noise from the street detracted from the sanctity of his message. Behing him, a giant ornamental monument rose. Reaching almost to the ceiling of the enormous church, it resembled a red and gold castle, complete with towers and pinacles. It dwarfed those gathered below. Statues of saints and a large Virgin in the center, completed the scene. Surrounding the altar were red and white candles, and bunches of flowers. A few nuns and priests lingered in the wings, observing the proceedings.
Most of the service was foreign to me, both because it was obviously conducted in Spanish, and because I was raised Protestant. Some things I recognized, the Lord´s Prayer, communion, tithing. I watched carefully, and everyone gave a tithe, even the obviously destitute, tradtionally dressed woman and the two boys beside me. I wondered how much they gave.
Suddenly everyone was turning around to neighbours and friends, and I deduced the priest had asked everyone to greet and meet those around them. Handshakes and sometimes kisses were distributed all around, including me. I was relieved to see I was not singled out, and did not receive a lot of attention during this. An elderly, obviously native woman, her face etched with the wrinkles of a thousand suns, tears wetting her cheeks, reached out over and over again, grasping the hands of strangers as if to squeeze out some human affection. Her tiny stature clad in her traditional blue dress and beads, she continued long after most everyone else had sat back down.
The priest commenced the communion ceremony, himself partaking at the altar. Afterwards, most of the congregation -save myself- lined up the centre aisle to recieve the sancrament. The queue moved briskly. At the very end, and elderly woman with a wreath of white hair, leaning heavily on her cane and the young woman assisting her, made a laboured but determined pilgrimage to the altar. Each few steps came with the price of several minutes. Finally the only one coming forward, and still 2o feet to go, a nun in a black habit swayed forward with the communion.
Kneeling and praying in Spanish, and the service was over.
Worshipers rushed forward. Many carried candles, some photographs of the Virgin, and one man carried a rather large sculpture of the crucifiction of Christ, blood graphically displayed running over his tortured, agonizing body.
A priest in a white robe held a paddle like object filled with holy water. With a flick of his wrist, he sprayed the crowd, blessing the objects held upwards. I stood in the rear, patiently holding my candle and waiting my turn. Several spray ensured both me and my candle were throroughly blessed. Holy water beading on the white wax, I followed the rest of the candle-toting crowd through a side door. We emerged into a hallway the overlooked a square garden in the center of the church. Looking upwards, you could see the second floor where I assumed the priests and nuns resided. The stonework glowed dimly in the sunshine, the garden tangled yet orderly. It was the perfect picture of tranquillity.
But forget religious revererance, it was a shoving match. Unheeding of their neighbours, the parishoners pushed forward towards the long, semi-enclosed area, complete with fume hoods, that housed several hundred candles of all sizes. On one wall, a large relief mural of the virgin, with a giant, erupting volcano behind her, gave a symbolic depiction of what it must be like to be a Catholic in Baños, a town continually threatened but fiery volcanic death. It was evacuated a recently as January of this year, and on clear days, one can see the volcano still spouting large amounts of ash into the blue sky.
I once more waited in the back, content with observing the peole. A native woman, clad in well worn traditional clothing, with a leather face and flashing a grin with yellow, protruding teet that spoke of a lifetime with no dentistry, held the hand of her boy, sporting jeans and a t-shirt, and to top it off, running shoes that flashed little lights as he bounced in place. He looked like any Canadian child. Mother and son, each from a different era, and likely to have completely different lives.
Finally it was my turn. The blood of the fallen candles lay in pools amidst the living, hundreds of mostly white candles of all heights. Some standing, some leaning, some fallen, it looked like a veritable forest. Burning faithfully, they cast a golden glow on the faces of those assembled.
I carefully lit my long white taper, and placed in near the back, in a puddle of wax that would hopefully ensure it would avoid the fate of so many others. I said a prayer for my mother, made the sign of the cross, and retreated.
I found myself suddently back on the street. The harsh light shocked my eyes, and a brisk wind swirled street garbage, papers and leaves. A dozen or more vendors in stalls sold balloons of Songe Bob and Spiderman, trinkets and candy. The chatter of a hundred voices rang through the air. Two policemen, dressed in army-style, grey and black camoflage uniforms, stood unthreateningly on the corner, chatting to passersby. Sitting on a park bench, it took a full ten minutes for my senses to adjust to the new reality.