Hello from Guatemala City, Guatemala! I am filing this report from the Maryknoll House in Guatemala. I have been here for a week on a retreat/pilgrimage to the sight of many modern martyrs in this part of the world. So far it has been both moving and challenging, and I hope to share more of this experience with you. Meanwhile let me just share one small experience with you. By the time you read this I hope I will be safe and sound back in Austin, Texas.
This morning, Sunday, January 22, 2012, I awoke in the dramatically beautiful city of Santiago Atitlán. The city sits on the shore of a gorgeous lake with an enormous volcano immediately behind it. It is truly one of the world´s more dramatic settings. The church of Santiago Atitlán opens out to look directly at the volcano. I concelebrated Mass here this morning with the other 23 participants on this retreat/pilgrimage and approximately 1,500 worshippers, 98% were Mayan Tzutujil Indians. The men were mostly dressed in their native costume of embroidered shirts and very colorful pantaloons. The women were even more gorgeous in their traditional costume of brightly colored skirts and blouses, with the younger women wearing a type of folded shawl on their heads, while the older ladies wore a head gear of elaborately wrapped, very long strips of red cloth. Holding on to their traditional dress is an important statement of the Mayan people about respecting and maintaining their traditional culture.
Since the Maya are a rather short people, walking down the long aisle we Gringo priests looked like a bunch of giants, towering over the crowd of faithful. Little children shook our hands as we processed up the aisle, they reached out to touch us, some took our hands and walked with us up to the altar. It was a wonderful sense of acceptance and welcome.
The church was absolutely packed, with many people crammed in the pews, standing in the aisles, people flowing out the side and back door. There were children and old, wizened peasants, nursing mothers, and everywhere you looked lots of smiling children. I was fortunate to get one of the seats up on the altar (rather than in the front pews) so that I could look out over this incredible scene. I was attracted by the choir, which sat in the front pews far to my right. In the very front was a beautiful young girl-woman, with very strong Mayan features, dressed from head to toe in traditional Tzutujil garb. She could have been straight out of a scene from the 16th Century. At that point one of the Maryknoll priests conducting the retreat got up to proclaim the Gospel in Spanish. Watching the young lady who so captivated my attention I saw her whip out her cell phone and snap the priest´s picture!
It struck me as a very good image of this land, so steeped in history and culture, and at the same time plunging – headlong it seems at times – into the future. This is just one small example of this two week experience full of surprise and new horizons