Having bought a linen cloth, Joseph of Arimathea
took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the linen cloth,
and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock.
Here in the mountains of Guerrero, the biggest religious celebration in all of the year is el Tercer Viernes de Cuaresma—the Third Friday of Lent. Thousands of people come from all over Mexico to pray at the shrine of El Santo Entierro (“the Holy Buried One”) in the village of Xalpatlahuac.
El Santo Entierro is an image of Jesus laid horizontally in a burial casket. During 364 days of the year, the image lies behind the altar in the parish church of Xalpatlahuac. But on the third Friday of Lent, the image is taken down and carried all around the village. The image is considered very miraculous, and everyone tries to at least touch the casket as it passes by. The church and the streets are packed with throngs of people.
I remember back in the early 1980s when a new parish priest was sent to Xalpatlahuac. He was rather upset that people came to the church often to greet El Santo Entierro but didn’t always attend Sunday Mass. So, in one of his homilies, he reminded people that El Santo Entierro was just a ceramic image and wasn't really Jesus, whereas the host in the tabernacle was the real Jesus; therefore, the Mass was more important than the image behind the altar.
Did this attempt at evangelization work? Not by a long shot. That evening the people from Xalpatlahuac gathered in front of the priest’s house, took him prisoner, stripped him, tarred him, covered him with chicken feathers, led him to the edge of town, and wished him well on his new journeys. The next parish priest—and none since—didn't repeat his predecessor’s homily.
One lives and learns. Two of the people I have been most learning from during my years here in Mexico have been Father Cesar and Father Pablo.
Father Cesar is the rector of the diocesan seminary, and he does an incredible job in offering preparation to the young men who will offer their priestly service in this indigenous, impoverished, mountainous setting. As I type these lines, Cesar is in a meeting with his mom and dad and brother and sister. Doctors are telling the family that the 77-year-old father, Natalio, who has suffered with diabetes for many years, should have an operation this coming week in the city of Puebla to remove his right leg. The family wants to do what is best for the dad; the operation will cost more than 6,000 Canadian dollars; the family is talking about how they might best be able to cover this expense. And what if the doctors suggest a prosthetic leg for Dad in the future? Ouch! Please pray for Cesar and his family.
Father Pablo belongs to a religious congregation called Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. He helped organize this Diocese of Tlapa in terms of its evangelical processes and programs (but he can’t be blamed for the priest’s homily in Xalpatlahuac). He left the mountains about five years ago to work in the southern state of Chiapas. But he is returning to Tlapa in May to participate in a national encounter of his congregation taking place here. The congregation has invited me to participate in that national encounter. I feel honoured by the invitation and overjoyed by the thought of being able to spend time with Pablo and other former friends.
Life goes on. On Wednesday evening I went to Ixcateopan, where Father Hubert celebrated his first Mass after being ordained a priest the day before. The mountains are blessed to have him here serving the people.
I had better go to fill the truck with gasoline. Tomorrow I will drive Arnulfo, an architect from Mexico City, to and from the village of San Marcos. Arnulfo just wants to be sure (for safety reasons) that the ten houses being built by the villagers there for the families that lost homes in the September landslide are being built according to plan. It’s not easy to find transport to this isolated village, so it’s one small way in which Mission Mexico can accompany the people in their effort to offer a dignified life to these families.
Question of the Week: If you had to get your van across a lake when the road was washed out,
would you think to get two boats to travel side by side, with half of the van on each? I thought
I was seeing things when I took this photo.
Have a great week, my friends. God bless.