Thursday, March 14, 2013

Easter in the Osa

Well, that was exciting.  We all of us (husband, son, daughter, me) got home yesterday in time to watch the new Pope be announced, by an ancient cardinal who mumbled something in Latin no one could understand, not even the TV commentators who knew Latin, and then to watch Francis I himself come out and ask the people packed into St. Peter's square to pray for him. 

I think I'm going to like him.  Seems like a stand-up guy.  First non-European pope in over 1200 years (and the other non-Europeans came from right around the Mediterranean).  First Jesuit, and I tend to admire Jesuits.  Probably the first with a degree in chemistry, which means he and I have at least one thing in common besides being Catholic and liking red shoes.

So, in honor of Francis I, I thought I'd tell the story of my one experience with the church in Latin America.  This was in the most remote part of Costa Rica, the Osa peninsula.  From the capital city of St. Jose, there are two ways to get to the Osa:  twelve hours of driving on mostly unpaved roads, or prop plane.  The landing strip in the airport at Puerto Jimenez was the only paved surface there; our 12 mile trip from the airport took 45 minutes over dirt roads in the back of a pickup truck.  (Lest you imagine we were roughing it:  we were not.  We were staying at a gorgeous EcoLodge, Lapa Rios.)

Easter Sunday occurred during our stay at Lapa Rios.  I might miss Mass sometimes when traveling, but not on Easter.   The folks at the lodge assured us that there was a Catholic church in Puerto Jimenez, but they didn't know the Mass schedule.  So they made up a time, and drove us there in the back of a pickup truck, and dropped us off.

The church was a cinderblock building painted a cheerful yellow.  (It's rainforest.  If you want a building to last, build it of something insects can't eat.)  The windows and doors were wide open, fans blowing, a group of musicians playing in the corner.  We were early, but people were wandering in, and a young couple had their baby there to be baptized.

To say we stood out would be an understatement.  We'd dressed appropriately, my daughter and I in light dresses and sandals, my son in khaki shorts.  But we were rather pale-skinned compared to the rest of the congregation.  My daughter's blond hair stood out like the sun.  Puerto Jimenez is not a tourist town.  People stared. 

The priest, a man with tan skin and silver hair, came down the aisle, fully robed, pausing to shake hands and speak to people.  I saw him notice us, and I mentally girded my loins.  I'd spent the month before the trip attempting to learn some Spanish from tapes I played in the car.  I reviewed greetings in my head.  I tried to think of how to say, "We're from Tennessee."

The priest smiled at me and extended his hand.  He leaned forward.  He said, "I take it you folks are Americans."

He was from Wisconsin.

I'd brought handy-dandy Mass response cheat sheets that I'd printed off the internet:  the Mass in Spanish on one side of the page, English on the other.  Between the Easter service and the baptism those proved utterly useless.  I'd been to Mass in France, where I partially speak the language, and in Italian, where we could follow along in a book.  Here we had to just stand, sit, kneel, and listen.  Which was fine. 

At the sign of peace, the baptismal parents, holding their baby, boldly came to us and shook our hands.  After that, everyone around us was willing to shake our hands, too.  Then the priest said something I didn't understand at all, but, amazingly, my children, with their once-a-week Spanish classes in their Catholic elementary school, did.  Before I knew it both children had slipped out of the pew and were heading up the aisle, along with every other child in attendance.  The priest gathered them all around the altar, holding hands, and they prayed the Our Father together in Spanish.  My children knew it. 

Suddenly, we didn't stand out as much anymore.