Thursday, September 1, 2011
OPEN HOUSE + ESTA ES SU CASA--SEPTEMBER 2011
OPEN HOUSE + ESTA ES SU CASA--SEPTEMBER 2011
--First of all, I repeat the information and invitation for my trip to St. Louis:
I will be in St. Louis September 21 to October 19, 2011, at Teresa Jorgen's house.
Once I arrive, I should be able to use my cell phone--314-210-5303.
To kick things off, Teresa invites you to an Open House.
2:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, September 25, 2011.
If you wish, bring a dish, a snack, a dip (yes!), or a beverage to share.
731 Simmons Ave.
Kirkwood, MO 63122
DIRECTIONS: Simmons Ave. actually runs into Manchester Rd. about a half-mile WEST of Lindbergh. (One very short block EAST of N. Geyer.)
A map can be found at this link:
--Next, let your light shine! See my latest in The Beacon:
--Now, our feature presentation.
ESTA ES SU CASA--SEPTEMBER 2011
I don’t know if you’d call us a version of the “Tea Party,” some might call us the “Spoil the Party,” but, led by our pastor Padre Jaime Parra, we massed a “town hall” meeting to demand something altogether serious, an end to alcohol sales at the annual parish celebration of our “patron saint,” the Black (or “burned”) Christ of Esquipulas. It’s actually a feast borrowed from Guatemala, where the original wooden crucifix, blackened by centuries of candle smoke, hangs in the cathedral. Years ago, the very enterprising Padre Fernando Bandeira obtained a copy for the church in Victoria when it became the new seat of the Victoria-Sulaco dual parish.
Every year in January, for at least two weeks, the main street of Victoria swarms with vendors and hawkers of wares and wearings and foods, and about 30 “beer booths,” the ricketiest excuses for a drunken binge you can imagine, a few boards slapped together, just big enough to hold an ancient refrigerator or “freezer,” extension cords and wires running through the urine-soaked mud gutters, with a couple of tipsy tables and various pieces of chairs in front. Meanwhile, the church struggles to keep the mind of the faithful on the “reason for the season,” the infinite mercy of God. Until now, no one has dared challenge the contradiction of low commerce and high hopes of religious renewal. But Padre Jaime and his even younger assistant Padre Manuel Cubias decided to take on The Establishment. They got the mayor, Sandro, to set a date for the big meeting and then rounded us up to show support.
You could easily predict features of the confrontation, I’m sure, but let me note a few highlights. First of all, what I did NOT expect, Padre Jaime seemed to be in charge. Once it was his turn to speak, he never really yielded the floor again, and the mayor did not seem to mind. But the mayor, basically a businessman (he owns the cable TV franchise, which he runs like Scrooge McDuck) tried to cut a few holes in our argument. For example, he said, “What are all you people doing here? This is just a matter for Victoria, I mean, there are people from Las Vegas, El Zapote, Guachipilin,” etc., etc. Padre Jaime put the kibosh on that real quick: “The feast of Esquipulas is a PARISH feast, and the parish includes Victoria and Sulaco and the two hundred villages they contain, so we all have a stake in this; please respect the Church!” A bold claim, considering that Sulaco has its own mayor, not to mention its own patronal feast. the Immaculate Conception, in December. The mayor comes back with, “OK, but look at Las Vegas. You’ve got a cantina a half-block from the Kindergarten. So don’t you get on your high horse.” Well, he’s right about that, though I always thought that the “authorities” in Victoria had to approve such zoning.
There was really no hostility between Sandro and Jaime; in between jibes and jousts, they were smiling and joking together in the background. The most prominent doctor in town asked to speak, “Let me tell you something about the damage that alcohol can do to an individual and a family.” I’m pretty sure everyone there had had some personal experience with that. That’s why we were there! Which, in fact, was another point the mayor wanted to make. “It’s the responsibility of the parents, of the wife, of the family to keep their men sober; you can’t put all the blame on the sellers, you have to put some of it on the sinners!”
Good point. When Chemo and his brother Marcos were testing the waters (the fire water, I should say) a couple of Christmases ago, and when I’d hear that Chepito had found his way inside a bottle again, I couldn’t help noticing that I was the only father, or godfather, out looking for my kid to bring him home. But still, you’d have to say a community shouldn’t fatten itself on the vices of its citizens. I heard each beer booth pays 5000 Lempiras for its temporary license, Indeed, a couple entrepreneurs got up to speak, alarmed that the proposal was to shut down ALL liquor sales, period, close every cantina, every pool hall, cancel every “dance.” Padre Jaime took pains to clarify that the ban pertained only to the feast-days, and only to the beer-booths, though he admitted that Prohibition, if you want to call it that, was “a fight for another day.”
It was nice to see an evangelical preacher--in fact, the president of the evangelical pastors association--take our side, since the scandal of the Catholic church celebrating its feasts steeped in booze is one of the sharpest arrows the fundamentalists prick us with among their own congregations, like stricter Protestants in the States mocking Catholic Bingo.
By the way, speaking of Bingo, a ban on games of chance was also part of the agreement, to clean up the mess. You think the beer booths are scuzzy, you should see the carnival barkers hustling rubes around the “wheel of chance,” including lots of kids. So that was on the plate as well.
Ultimately, it was Padre Jaime himself who called for the final vote, and at that point it was agreed that only residents of Victoria had privileges. “Everyone in favor of the ban, stand over here; those opposed, stand over there.” He kept repeating the instructions, because, once the voters came forward, no one moved. That is, no one went “over there.” It was unanimous. I think Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll the same way, you know, loading the dice! But we all cheered, and noticed just a few sour faces, resigned to their “baptism” or just too intimidated to vote their “conscience.” The mayor said he and Padre Jaime would hammer out the actual document or decree, the legal language. I thought, That’s it? We did it? Just like that? Athenian democracy? I am eager to see how it actually plays out....
Now, if Padre Manuel had been robbed, assaulted, and kidnapped AFTER the historic vote, you’d surely have assumed it was the revenge of the liquor interests. But his ordeal happened a week before the big confab. In fact, his attackers, ten of them in masks and armed like a militia, did not even know who he was, till they asked one of the two other men with him, “What are you doing with this guy?” possibly because they knew them, whereas Padre Manuel has only been in the parish about a year. “Well, we’re just helping the priest.” The priest! “Oh, God, Father, we didn’t know you were a priest!” And they fell all over themselves apologizing. “You know, we don’t want to do this. We’ve got orders from higher up,” that is, from organized crime that has a ready network in place to steal and dispose of vehicles before you even have a chance to report the crime. I have to say that I didn’t understand Padre Manuel. Believe me, if they wanted to car-jack me, I’d play that Jesus card first thing! “You don’t want to rob a man of God, do you!”
What happened was this. Padre Manuel and two delegados were returning from a workshop in Tegucigalpa. Just outside Sulaco, a favorite site for assaults, they were stopped and surrounded by this gang, at three in the afternoon! They were roughed up a little, including having their wrists bound behind their back, blindfolded, and hustled up into the hills, while the car--which had been the previous pastor Chicho’s pickup for years, so it was no “luxury” vehicle--and all their possessions were whisked away. There they were guarded for a while, and then abandoned. In the morning they found their way to a house, and pleaded for help. The only thing the thieves had left Padre Manuel with was the “chip” to his cell phone. He plugged it into a borrowed phone and called Padre Jaime, who had been at his wit’s end with worry, ever since he called the host of the workshop in Tegucigalpa the previous day and was told, “Oh, Father, sure, they left here about one o’clock.” Padre Jaime at first assumed they’d broken down, or had an accident, but that news would have traveled, so he was panicking and calling the police all over the place. Didn’t sleep a wink all night. In fact, when Manuel’s call finally came in, the police suggested they accompany Jaime to recover Manuel. “Could be a trap, Father.” On the other hand, the police are corrupt enough around here that they might themselves be setting the trap, so Jaime agreed to their escort, “But I was keeping an eye on them.”
I have many nightmares about assaults, including one with Godzilla in it after Manuel’s trauma, so I can only imagine how I’ll handle the real thing when it happens to me. I felt so ashamed of our parish, indeed, of Honduras, that these two good men, Jaime from Panama, Manuel from El Salvador, who have only come here to serve the church and share the gospel, should be treated like this. (Jaime has been robbed a couple times, his car broken into but not stolen.) Their own attitude is...miraculous. “That’s life. These are things, no one got killed. And the car was insured.” Manuel did ask Jaime to fill in for him at the next scheduled Friday evening Mass here, because, at least for now, he was too nervous to drive at night. But soon enough Manuel was back, for a Sunday Mass, his patented, engaging delivery of the Word undiminished. “Did you notice what Jesus said there? How about that!”
Besides pulling at some of the threads of entrenched, misguided customs like the feria, Jaime and Manuel have started new traditions from scratch, where there’s no competition from vested interests. For example, the big Youth Day gathering in Las Vegas that I wrote about before. The latest Woodstock was just last Sunday, the third annual parish-wide gathering for EVERYBODY, which last year took place in Las Vegas, this time in San Antonio, near Sulaco. I’m sure the population at least tripled with the influx of pilgrims. Jaime loves a “caminata,” a hike by any other name, so we all gathered in a big soccer field outside town and paraded to the site, about 45 minutes away, deep at the other end of town, another soccer field. But it was splendid, San Antonio capitalizing on lessons learned from the two previous years’ events. The theme was “Be a sign of peace.” So at one point a dove was released. Jaime did a great job getting the big crowd into a celebratory spirit. And to top it all off, it was Padre Manuel’s birthday. At the end of the day, Jaime led us in singing the traditional birthday serenade “Mananitas.” One woman came up and gave Manuel a hug, then a man followed, pretty soon it was a flood and you could see that the gang that robbed him had been reversed. An assault of affection.
The very next day, another extravaganza, this time at the school, sponsored by Ayuda en Accion, the Spanish-based NGO that had almost died on the vine with the financial implosion in Europe. But it has bounced back, and they had the kids working for a couple weeks to transform the school into “Riesgolandia.” When I saw the theme was “una gestion de riesgo,” a risk-alert, I assumed it referred to the crisis in education, but no, it was the environment! I should have known--politically correct. But, actually, in Honduras it’s more than mere fashion. Honduras really is at risk, underscored most recently by a series of storms that have sent floods all over, unimpeded by the illegal clear-cutting in the hills.
The students hauled hundreds of rocks from down by the river and painted them white to make a network of lanes, filled in with a carpet of sawdust, to mark the sites of little pavilions for 6 other schools invited to participate, familiar ones like Guachipilin, El Zapote, Calichito, and others I had never heard of, Rincones, El Jaral, and the strangest of all, Chaguitillo (“Chicago,” as someone called it; which is OK, since Guachipilin is often pronounced “Washington.”) There was a timed painting competition, a selection of “maquetas,” that is, miniatures (of the various schools), but the highlight was the musical competition. There was a panel of judges, and you know you’d love for everyone to win, especially since some of the kids coming from tiny towns in the remote hills who probably never imagined performing before such a crowd and did a brave and beautiful thing.
But the little troupe led by Dorita, Elvis and Dora’s sixth-grader, was miles ahead of everyone else, enhanced by the delightful choreography their teacher Profe Abener. Just see if you can picture this: two little twins were costumed as what? worms! Another child was a sunflower, and two other kids were pine trees, with Dorita a Katy Perry lookalike and the same unending energy, leading the way. When I see these grand showings, I swell with pride for our little town, and for the other little communities who put their best foot forward. But, at the same time, I guess I’m like a soccer mom, torn because my boy Chemo did not make the “cut.” Why? Well, “I’m too big.” That’s what the teacher told him. I don’t raise any ruckus, because, first of all, this teacher has to pass him! And I don’t want any attention drawn to the fact that he’s practically past the legal age for grade school. He’s 16 in fourth grade now; in sixth grade, he’ll be the only student with a legal ID. So let’s not upset any apple carts. But I just want to cry when I see him enjoying all the performances and he’s shut out.
Alba, Chemo’s aunt where we eat supper every night, is pregnant, very pregnant, the baby due in October, when I’ll be in the States. She's sure it's a boy. Her own health is iffy; this is her fifth child. the next youngest, Reina, is 10. I really had hoped she and husband Santos would not have any more kids, once we made a couple trips with her to Tegucigalpa to visit my cardiologist, who was fairly alarmed at her condition. But it went basically nowhere, since she wouldn’t follow up. I’m already having nightmares, except they’re real, like when she recently collapsed, fainted dead away; the kids called her father Elio, who managed to haul her into bed. I came running over when the kids called me, alerting Dr. Meme on the way. He showed up surprisingly quickly, since he was still closing up at the clinic (it was about 5:00 p.m.), by which time Alba had more or less revived and even got up to change to something nice, “because the doctor’s coming over”! Is the baby OK?, was the big question. Dr. Meme assured us yes. Fortunately, when Alba fell, in the kitchen, she just sort of sat down, without hitting anything, sort of a miracle, considering how small the kitchen is. So we are hoping for a healthy baby, and a healthy mom. Prayers, please!
Word is, the liquor ban is not sitting well among the movers and shakers in Victoria. They may be looking for a recount. The mayor has yet to “publish” the minutes of the big meeting, leaving the legal status of the vote in limbo. Maybe I’ll pass around a petition when I’m in St. Louis....
See you soon! Love, Miguel