Saturday was a very special day. It began with a beautiful event and ended with one even more lovely.
At 9 a.m. was a special event to bless things.
It wasn’t a formal mass. Just a blessing. There weren’t too many people there at first. Maybe 30 or so. And everyone had things in their hands: water in big water jugs, or pop bottles, or like me … in a cleaned out wine bottle (I was asked by Blanca to get some water blessed and that is what she gave me). There were several people with framed posters of Jesús or Mary, and small statues. There were a few people with guacals of beans, corn and/or rice. There were several birds (Alicia brought her half-moon conyure), a kitten, a couple of puppies, bigger dogs and a tortoise.
Father Santos came in looking tired. It was a long procession the night before and I believe he had spent his time all day in the cantons! But he greeted us kindly and with a smile for all of us and for what we had brought. He read the prayers to bless the water he was to sprinkle and then called up those who had brought water first. Since I didn’t know the procedure, I watched to see what everyone did and then followed suit.
Everyone with water approached the little table that had been set up on floor in front of the pews. And Father, with a loufah attached to a handle, dipped that sponge and raised it over his head and sprinkled all the bottles – making sure all of our water receptacles and contents got blessed with the holy water. There were a bunch of us, so as some got blessed, they went back to their seats while the rest of us slowly made out way to the front to get our own water blessed.
Then the icons followed. Then the grains. It was the same process for them.
Then the moment many were waiting for arrived – the blessing of the animals. They all brought their critters up to get sprinkled. Some critters didn’t really like it – and there were lots of smiles –
It was fun to see all this within the walls of the church. Often there are dogs that wander in … but nothing like this.
Finally – it was time for the children. THAT was the sweetest moment. Parents took up their babies and young ones and even some not so young ones. And they all got blessed. And like with the animals – not all of the children liked getting doused! There was such affection and love in Father Santos’ eyes and smile. He was obviously enjoying this tradition. And he was smiling kindly at the children and the parents the whole time. And there was even some shared gentle laughter and the reactions of the children. It truly was a sweet experience.
When all was said and done, more people straggled in. Probably 100 in all by the time it was done. Father blessed the things of the late-comers with patience and kindness.
As everyone got up to leave afterwards, someone went up to the table and asked to be blessed. So Father blessed them with the holy water. So then everyone went up to be blessed including Cecilia, Alisha and me.
It’s hard to describe the feeling. But I went away feeling at peace. Feeling happy.
The rest of the day was uneventful. Alisha and I colored a few hard-boiled eggs with Cecilia who didn’t quite understand WHY we would be doing such an odd thing but she thought they were quite pretty. We saved the colored water because in May they make confetti eggs out of emptied egg shells which are then hit over people’s heads. I’ll learn more about that when the time comes… but we did color some of her hollowed out eggs that she had been saving in preparation for May. And she really liked the look!!
About 6:30 p.m. we got into the truck to drive out to Alejandria. There was to be a special ‘vigil’ – but not an all-nighter like the one in Berlin. Due to the off and on rain all day, we waited till the last minute to decide whether to go or not. I’m so glad it stopped raining!!
We drove to Alejandria in the dark. This was a first for Alisha. Driving at night is not my favorite thing to do, but slowly, it’s not so bad really. And there is no traffic so that is a bonus.
We had been invited to park in front of someone’s house – he said he would keep an eye on the truck for us. And he said we could park in their ‘drive-way’ – which was about 2 feet wider than the truck and steeply sloped down towards their house. And then I was told I had to back in … from a narrow road. In the DARK!!! It was quite the adventure. But I managed to do it without scraping the sides of the truck or losing control and crashing backwards into their house!! Alisha helped guide with her words and flashlight – easier for her as a fellow driver to tell me where to go! In spite of the ‘struggle’ to get into that driveway, later I was glad I had backed in because it made getting our so much easier!
One of the cool parts of this evening was that we were parked quite a way from where the vigil was to be held. So we had to walk in the dark on the dirt road. Then down from that main road on a relatively steep path to the river, cross the little river, and then up a steeper hill to Blanca’s house.
I only had a small ‘finger-ring’ light. But it was enough. Alisha, Cecilia and I didn’t slip once. It was a little damp and a little slippery from the day’s rain.
We stopped briefly at Blanca’s house to say hello and drop some things off. Then we continued down the little road to Cecilia’s family’s house. There were already a lot of people standing around a bonfire. Everyone had an un-lit candle. I had bought 20 candles in case there were some who needed one. And quite a few needed one so I’m glad I had done that. We stood around for a bit … chatting quietly. Then about 7:15, Balmore began the reflection and explanation of this celebration.
It starts with the fire. This symbolizes the Jesús is the light in the darkness. The Pascua candle is lit from this bonfire. And we start walking. Balmore held the candle up as he led us up the hill and spoke a bit but I couldn’t hear him. There were at least 40 or 50 people following him – he was leading the way to his house where the vigil would be held. About a third of the way up, he invited some – but not all – to light their candles. We continued walking. 2/3 of the way up, he turned and invited more – but not all – to light their candles. Then at the top of the hill, just outside the doors of his home, we all lit our candles.
And very cool – during the walk up the hill, the song “this little light of mine” was sung. Same tune and with more or less the same words.
When we entered the front area of Balmore’s home, there was a table set up with a simple cloth. Many plastic chairs were set out. We stood with our lights lit for a short time then we were instructed to extinguish our candles.
Then began the readings, the short reflections, the prayers and the songs. Each segment lasted about 10 minutes or so – depending upon the readings – which were from both the Old and the New Testaments. Several Alejandria youth did the scripture readings. Blanca, Idalia, Pati and Vilma were the choir. We sat for the readings and reflection and we stood when we sang. About 2/3 of the way into the vigil – after about an hour or so, they covered the table with a white cloth and placed two more candles on it which were lit by the Pascua candle. We also lit our candles again briefly then blew them out again.
More scriptures were read, with more reflection, prayer and song. Then Balmore got the water that had been blessed that morning and poured some into a guacal. He used a small leafy branch to sprinkle us all with this holy water. Then we shared communion and ended with a final reflection time.
We finished up about 9:45 p.m. Everyone was given some coffee laced with sugar and chocolate and some pan dulce. We chatted a while and enjoyed each other’s company and then people little by little went home.
We started walking back to the truck (with another family that needed a ride to town) about 10:30.
Most of us had little flashlights or used their candles to see our walking path. It is so dark out in the country. We all made it safely – no slipping. And when we were in the road area looking over the little school’s soccer field, it was all aglow!! It was flashing with fireflies. What a miraculous sight!!! We all had to stop a moment to enjoy it. Must have been hundreds down there in that smallish dark space!
We continued on to the truck. I was able to get it out of our ‘parking garage’ easily enough in 4x4 low gear. When it was safely on the road, the 5 of us from the Pastoral House loaded into the cab of the truck and the family of 6 loaded into the bed of the truck for the slow and very dark journey back up to Berlin.
It was a beautiful day and evening.