Holy week in Bolivia is absolutely beautiful! The entire week is packed full of traditions and images and prayers that force everyone to stop and really think about this beautiful time and what it means for our faith. An extra special effort is made to show that, for Bolivian Catholics, Holy Week is the climax of the liturgical year, and the events it celebrates are the core of our faith.
I apologize that this post is a little “dry.” It doesn’t really have much of the imagery it should to truly capture the events of the week. But…if it’s any consolation, there are pictures (uh…soon)!
Every palm Sunday the crowd gathers together a few “blocks” down the road to listen to the gospel reading in which Jesus, amidst the excited crowds that laid olive branches in his path, entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Padre Pepe, both years, took care to explain that entering on a donkey was a symbol of humility and peace (a horse-mounted king would be a symbol of war). Then Padre Pepe climbs on a donkey, and we reenact the same scene, waving our palm branches and shouting praises to our God, who sent us a just and peaceful king in Jesus Christ. It´s a wonderful opportunity to put the imagination to work and consider what it would have been like to witness this event in Jerusalem and to consider how it impacts our lives today. It’s kind of alike a big interactive Ignation exercise.
On Thursday, we celebrated mass, and we of course reenacted Jesus washing the disciples´ feet. Because this is the day we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, mass was followed by a holy hour filled with prayers for world peace.
The next day, Good Friday, we gathered in the church at 5 am to carry the big crucifix through the town to pray the Stations of the Cross. As the sun slowly rose, we stopped at houses throughout the area where the owners prepared little altars. After praying one of the stations, we pray for whoever lives there. Padre blesses their home, and we continue, singing, down the road. The whole thing lasts something like three hours, but it’s definitely one of my favorite events of the year. There’s something really special about the parish gathering together to bring the reality of Christ’s passion outside the walls of the church and in to the community. Although it’s typical to fast on Good Friday in the US, in Bolivia there’s a tradition of feasting. There are twelve different foods, including fish, arroz con leche, and bizcochos that the people eat while traveling to different churches. Sometimes they just set up a makeshift barbecue outside the church and have a cook out. The funny thing is, I can’t seem to find anyone to explain exactly why they do it. They usually mumble something about the twelve apostles, then shrug and say “it’s just what we do.”
Saturday night, Easter vigil, is the height of the celebration. The mass is what you would expect in a US church; everyone gathering outside to light their candles, the blessing of the Holy Water, etc. The three newest girls in the hogar were baptized that night and looked absolutely adorable in their matching white dresses. After mass, most of the catechesis classes and the girls from the hogar perform dances in celebration of Jesus’ triumph over death.
This year, I helped the girls put together a particularly special dance. I wanted to get the older girls thinking about their role in the hogar and also to get them thinking about what Easter really means to them. The first half of the dance only featured the older girls. When we were putting the dance together I asked them what words and phrases expressed what Easter meant to them. They came up with words like joy, togetherness, no fear, etc. Then I asked them to come up with a movement that expressed that feeling or idea. They demonstrated things like jumping, bowing, holding hands and moving in a circle, etc. After they all had a chance to share, I helped them arrange their chosen movements in to a finished piece of choreography. The portion they created ended with them kneeling on the ground, at which point the little girls entered carrying baskets of flowers. The little girls had some simple choreography, mostly just simple “follow the leader” style movement, which ended with the little girls kneeling in a circle and the older girls dancing their “togetherness” movement around them. Then each girl knelt with one of the little girls on their knees in front of her. From behind, the older girls guided the little girls’ hands in a series of movements that echoed the first piece of choreography the teens had created. They guided them to bow, to reach, to yada and todah and all those other wonderful things I learned from Judy Mandeville’s sacred movement class. Finally, the older girls helped the little ones to their feet, and lead them to throw petals from their basket towards the adorned cross by the altar as they exited.
I was so proud of the girls. What they danced was truly their creation and a genuine offering to the Lord. The little girls looked so small and innocent and the older girls looked like guardian angels teaching and guiding them in prayer. The church was so uncharacteristically quiet and I felt like the girls were truly communicating something about this most holy day.