Saturday, April 18, 2009


Good Friday is almost past, but not without the procession of images of Christ. Two things struck me on observing this event once again. The first is to be reminded of how easily those in the secular West dismiss Christianity (and perhaps all religions). Second, and related, is the importance of this event.

Let’s begin with a brief description. The procession is scheduled to begin at 7:00PM but everyone knows it won’t begin until dusk. Nevertheless, the center of town is virtually shut down from about 6:300 – about 10 square blocks of this pueblo. As vehicles have been removed, people take to the streets, some taking up their positions along the curbs, others just walking perhaps looking for a better viewing place. By the time the procession begins there must be 1,000 (or perhaps 2,000) on the streets. One has the feeling the entire town has turned out for this annual event. The procession begins with the mandatory truck with four police officers with machine guns at the ready and then the Bishop protected by a canopy held by four men (and perhaps the guns) and then a lovely image of Mary (revealing again her importance as the mother of Christ). The main procession consists of a Christ image from every church in town, some very large images taking 8 men to carry and others no more than 15 inches high. One or two images are of Christ in his glass tomb (which fascinates the young children) and others carried on a mat or in a supine position on the cross. Many of the walkers carry candles to suggest that the life of Christ will live on after his death earlier in the day. The procession takes about 30 minutes to pass: There is no band (which is very unusual) and the entire crowd is silent.

Why do people come? Clearly they do not come to see the latest image as little has changed over the years. It is not novelty that brings them out, but the predictable. If we rely on Brandes (1988) analysis we note that there are no masks, suggesting that the main participants are not playing a social role in which individual identity is lost. On this occasion people are truly playing themselves, as are the crowd. We are all participating in collective ritual in which we must see and be seen. We all remind ourselves of our membership (the writer and probably many other westerners present can be excluded from this claim) and this reminder binds members together and provides a collective identity. In a Catholic country this identity is reinforced several times throughout the year, but the events of these few days restate the importance of that membership and provides emotional attachment and feeling of importance. The events of these days make public the very foundations of the group – a belief in Christ, in the story of his crucifixion and resurrection.

By coincidence I read a story in Canada’s national newspaper reporting the dismay of professors of English literature at the growing unawareness of the story of Christianity among their students. This unawareness prevents them from understanding the metaphors, phrases and persons from the Bible that have shaped much of the literature of the West. Some students fail to understand why their professor is frequently talking about Christianity and perhaps see this as bias. However, this story, which has been around for 2000 years (perhaps the only longer surviving story is that of the Jews) has penetrated much of our language and story telling. Perhaps this is part of my dismay at the ease with which the secular west dismisses Christianity. If this same story were encountered while traveling in the darkest (if any such place still exists) of the Amazon, we would marvel and go out of our way to learn more. Now students would rather take a course in the history of rock music than read the Bible or listen to analysis of this old story.

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