Thursday, July 12, 2007

4th letter: Mennonite. Not Protestant, not quite Catholic. Good place to be here.

It is winter here, though you wouldn´t know it. I think that when they say it´s winter, they just mean that it´s rainy season. Several times a week it rains hard, fat drops pounding the warm dusty air into muddy rivers and flushing loose stones and trash down the steep streets. I´m a little sick right now. At night I sleep with a cloth over my mouth to keep out the dust. It´s all this pollution (polvo) in the air between the bouts of rain that makes it hard to breathe for me sometimes. In Honduras, there don´t seem to be any driving regulations, much less smog-control laws. I´m glad I brought my asthma meds just in case.
The survey work is well over. After a few days of making up tasks for myself (everything from coloring copies of kids´ workbooks to interviewing the priest over my questions about Catholicism), it was decided that I should help with the parish´s after-school tutoring program, ´reforzamiento´. So far it´s been good. I´ve always clicked well with kids. I´m working with this little ants-in-the-pants Jose, a third-grader. He can´t sit still to practise the times-tables, so I take him outside. We throw rocks in a hole to memorize the tables. It´s a game I made up. I call it ´rocks-in-a-hole.´ Then the other volunteer, Xiomare, and I play soccer with the other seven or eight kids on the rough little dirt field by the church where tutoring takes place.
My church experience has been a major part of life here. I want to get a tast of the wide range of cultural perceptions of God in Honduras, and how people respond to God in different settings. So I´ve been going to three different churches. Before this summer, I had never participated in a Catholic mass. Now I go nearly every day. First, I went because it was the one dependable thing in my day; its constancy kept me sane. Also, I attended to get to know the lay people, to form relationships and ¨build rapport¨ (thank you Dr. Arnold and Biculturalism 251!). Yet I found myself growing attached not just to the people but to the style of worship as well. There is a profundity in the liturgy and a mysterious rhythm to the service, in the rising and kneeling, then sitting again. I love the moment when Padre Peppe lifts the communion wafer and sings in his rich baritone voice, ¨Este es el sacramento de nuestro fe.¨ (This is the sacrament of our faith). The words are all the same note - I think an E on the piano - except for the last two syllables, which descend to D-sharp and D.
As a not-catholic, I cannot take communion. The prohibition has created a strange bond of friendship with a girl named Johanna, who got pregnant just before her confirmation into the church at age 17. Unmarried pregant women cannot take communion (though I imagine the impregnators taste the wafer, no problem). Despite the communion exclusion, I am nourished by the corporate prayer and scripture readings from Old and New Testaments. The beauty of the Catholic Church is its unity as a body. As one, the church worldwide moves through the seasons, following Christ´s life, death, and resurrection. My eyes are trained from myself and my individual worship experience to the crucified figure of Christ at the front, the collective experience of Christ´s body on earth. The priest speaks, based on the readings, of justice for the poor. I pass the peace of Christ with a kiss on the cheek to Johanna, then to the old fruit vendor with broad, spread barefeet. Her gnarled fingers grip my arm tightly and she smiles toothlessly. I am glad to call her ¨hermana,¨ ¨sister.¨

On Sundays I take a shared collective taxi to an evangelical Mennonite church in Teguc. It is quite a different experience, with drums, an electric guitar, sermons that crescendo at the end, and songs like ¨This is the Air I Breathe¨ translated into Spanish. On Tuesdays there is no mass, so I have been going to an Evangelical Pentecostal church. If my talking with people there develops into interviews, I may have a potential research project on my hands!
I realize I haven´t explained much about relations between Catholics and Evangelicals here. I already wrote a ton, so basically: I was told by a Catholic that it is better to not go to church than to be an Evangelical. I have heard of Evangelicals calling Catholics ¨modanos,¨a deragatory term for a non-believer. Weekly, both point out the flaws of the other from the pulpit. I´m trying to understand the points of inflammation and am curious why so many Catholics are leaving for the Evangelical church.
If you pray, pray for the peace of Christ to be a salve between these two churches so that they may work together for good. Pray that they would focus on building bridges rather than on their differences. Also, pray for the women here, some of whom I know, who are beaten by their husbands. Sometimes I don´t know how to pray tfor them, machismo is so basic to the cultural system. In my relationship with Johanna, you could pray that I would be able to communicate that nothing can separate her from the love of Christ.
Dios esta siempre con ustedes.
(God is always with you).

p.s. I decided not to be the godmother of Arianna. It was a choice that resulted from discussions with my parents and my MCC advisors. Basically, one of the priests said that no, I couldn´t be the godmother, but the other gave permission to Leyla without the knowledge of the other. I didn´t want to subvert the first priests´authority and thus potentially damage further relations between evangelicals, or MCC, and catholics.

1 comment:

Face said...

I´ve also been interested in the connection between Evangelicals and Catholics here. Part of it is pure competition. Also, part of it seems to be the idea that by excluding others, you can be sure of your inclusion.