He is risen!
I had been anticipating Easter for a while, since I was in Catholic South America. Worshipping with people from other nations and languages is one of my favorite things to do– diversity among unity is beautiful. Triniterian living at its best.
South American Catholicism is known for being particularly fervorful and devout, so I was excited to be a part of the Easter celebration in Sucre, Bolivia. Things started off well on Good Friday, when Jordan and I were hanging out at a cafe on the main plaza in town, soaking up some decent internet. We heard music and loud voices, and suddenly a parade came into view.
Lead by several banners, the procession entailed priests, locals, musicians, and life-size ceramic Jesuses. After the banners, the priests held a glass casket of Jesus, bleeding from his side. Locals with woven palm fronds followed, keeping time to the music. Behind the first group of local Bolivians was the military playing brass instruments. More locals, then the police band on horns. They marched around the plaza until they reached the cathedral on the other side, and entered the building.
More stores than normal were closed on Holy Saturday, and mass was a little later than usual on Easter Sunday. Our hostel is in the city center, roughly three or four blocks from Plaza 25 de Mayo. We dressed nicer than we had in a month, probably, and stepped out to walk to church. All the one-way city center roads had been blocked off from cars so foot traffic could get to the churches and cathedral in town.
As we walked to the cathedral, whose mass was at 9 am, we passed by a large group of youth waving balloons and firing some sort of smoke-and-noise-maker in the air, frightening all the pigeons in town. At the front of the line a man wheeling a PA system repeatedly shouted something along the lines of “Christ is risen!” We cut through the plaza to beat them to the cathedral, and entered.
Jordan was fairly nervous about attending mass–it was his first time at mass and listening to Spanish in a formal setting. He is also a good foot taller than most Bolivians, so he sticks out. While I was a little nervous about being one of the few gringos in church (and yes, we stick out. I was in Bolivia for a week before I met a Bolivian man I was shorter/same size of), I have attended mass twice in the States and twice in Nicaragua.
We eased into a pew two-thirds in the back, near a nice Bolivian gentleman that made sure we got programs. Church was not nearly as energetic or packed as we had expected. The service included two traditional dances from six teenagers in typical Bolivian dress: The girls wore their long hair in two braids and wore bright blue skirts, the boys wore white shirts, dark pants rolled up to their knees, and a colorful, striped shawl tied around one shoulder. Their shoes had metal discs sewn on to create noise as they danced, and a few of the other gringos in the service videoed the experience with their phones.
Jordan and I had not expected to take communion at the cathedral, because we are not catholic, but the man on my left side insisted that it did not matter, that we should go ahead. Everyone filed into the main aisle whenever the wished; there were no ushers to assign rows. After receiving the sweetest wine I ever had at the eucharist, the service finished with a benediction. I understood about 30 percent of the sermon and music, and probably would have understand 40 percent if the sound system had been better. On our way out the door we were pleasantly surprised to see roughly 20 foreigners at the cathedral, and I would bet that most of us were there to worship, not to experience Bolivian culture.
Our Easter afternoon was very low-key: I took a nap and listened to a few Easter hymns on my ipod, and we cooked lunch and hunted down some avocados at the local market.
In the end, our Easter experience was not quite what we had expected, but it was wonderful to be inside a church again.