Today is Good Friday, called Viernes Santo (Holy Friday) here in El Salvador. We did even more celebrating today than yesterday. Today is a very important day in El Salvador. As Kathy and I were discussing later during the night, the suffering of Christ seems to be more important here than the happiness and tidiness of his resurrection. The pain is a prominent part of the story of the Passion and Salvadorans mourn his death by having processions and creating “drawings” in the road. Thus, this is the longest blog I’ve ever posted. Most of it is pictures so you won’t have to do too much reading. The pictures do a better job of telling the story.
Kathy, Cecilia, and I left the house today at 7:15am for Alejandría. We had bread and chicken with lettuce for the entire community. Kathy and I thought we were driving like we always do. But Ceci informed us that we’d be walking. Okay. I needed to go back into the house to get some water for the walk. We were walking because people were doing “dibujos” (drawings) on the road in Alejandría for the procession so we couldn’t drive on it.
If you’ve ever walked to Alejandría from the Pastoral House you know it’s a difficult walk. It’s a steep trek down and since it’s been raining lately the leaves on the ground are slippery. This was my third time walking down the hill to Alejandría. We were surrounded by coffee plants most of the way and right now many are in bloom. We could smell them with every breath as we walked down to the valley. I had to take pictures because I’ve never seem then in bloom before. It took a little over a half hour to get there and we managed to arrive without anyone falling. The walk is about a mile long and takes a little over a half hour.
Walking down to Alejandria
Some kind of fruit
Coffee plants with white flowers
Can you see the path?
Later in the year the coffee cherries will start to grow
Not an easy trip
In the middle of the rainforest
I carried about 50 small loaves of bread
A cool plant I saw
As we got to Blanca’s house we could see her family creating their “dibujo” Even though dibujo means drawing, the dibujos that people were doing are so much more. Each dibujo can include drawing in the dirt plus ashes, flowers, plants, streamers, confetti, a tablecloth, etc. There were 14 dibujos in total. One for each of the Stations of the Cross that we’d be doing a little later. The dibujo that Blanca’s family was creating was of Oscar Romero. It was huge and would be the last station of the procession.
Then we walked on to see Cecilia’s family’s dibujo. Her sons, Marvin and Elmer, were helping to create it since they have a lot of talent. At one point they opened a giant pod from a plant to reveal stalks inside. They were similar to the stalks that I saw during Palm Sunday. It was fun to watch them as they excitedly created their station. Marvin took Kathy and me up the road so we could see all the dibujos that people were making.
Each dibujo was unique and beautiful in its own way. Everyone was very creative and I loved having the opportunity to see the dibujos as they were being created. I felt immense joy inside me as we walked to see each station and greet everyone. Jesus’ aunt, Pilar, and his mom, Lola, both had stations that they were working on. Kathy and I helped a woman at one of the stations to hang up the tablecloth she wanted to use as a backdrop.
One man didn’t have much to decorate his dibujo but it was still beautiful and he put his whole heart into creating his special station. Seeing his humble dibujo coupled with the detail that he wasn’t wearing any shoes made me feel sad and joyful at the same time. Here is a man with next to nothing: a modest home, no shoes, and a small dibujo. Despite being poor he had on his best clothes and filled the station he created with great love. And even though he is older and somewhat frail, he later walked the entire procession.
After seeing everyone and their dibujos we went to Cecilia’s house to sit down for a while before the procession. I munched on some pan dulce while Kathy had a tamale. Alejandro was pretty sick so he wouldn’t be joining us for the procession. Around 9:10 we walked past all the dibujos up the hill to the area where the procession would be starting. We sat around for a short while to see who else would show up. I went to sit next to Ceci and somehow ended up lying on the ground. It was a good laugh.
Blanca working on a station
Opening a giant pod
What was inside
Checking out people's flowers
Even the little ones helped out
Pilar creating her dibujo
I loved the brownish leaves of this dibujo
A cross made of ashes
Lots of flowers
There were all very beautiful
Cecilia's sons working on their dibujo
Poor Ale was sick so he couldn't do the procession
Cecilia's family's dibujo
"God pours many blessing in this community"
Jesus spelled with ashes
Almost all flowers and plants
I love the bougainvillea
Waiting for everyone to arrive
I fell down
Cecilia tried to comfort me
The procession for the Stations of the Cross (Via Crucis) started around 9:30am. For those of you who don’t know, the Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion. Balmore began by greeting everyone and reminding us all why today was special. He said it was a somber day because today is the day that Christ died. He then said a prayer and did a reading as people knelt before the first station. We did the same thing at every station: we kneeled, had a reflection and a prayer, said the Our Father and Hail Mary, and made the sign of the cross. In between each station we would sing. I knew a couple of the songs so I was able to sing along for part of the time.
Some people choose to stand during the reading and prayer. I stood at first but then at the third station I decided to kneel. I initially knelt on the ground but it was really hard and covered with little rocks and sticks. I saw Blanca kneeling on her shoes so I followed suit at the next station. It was much easier. Even Blanca’s mom, who is in her 80s, kneeled during the reading and prayer. She was smart and brought a towel with her to kneel on.
When we reached the final station everyone gathered around the dibujo of Father Romero. It was a beautiful dibujo to end the Stations of the Cross. We finished at 11:30am. So in total it was a 2-hour procession. It took quite a while even though we didn’t walk very far.
Balmore started the procession
Making our way to the first station
The first station
Procession to the next station
Lola, Jesus' mom
Idalia carrying flowers
Balmore leading the group
Gathered around the dibujo
It was good to spend time together
Carrying flowers from previous dibujos
This one had a drawing of Christ
Prayers and reflections
Making our way to the last station
The final station
A dibujo of Romero
The front of the station
Surrounded by flowers
One last reading
Everyone wanted to be a part of the procession
At least he waited until after we were finished
Cecilia came around with sandwiches and tamarind juice for everyone. It was all delicious and I ate mine pretty quickly. We were all hungry after the procession. For the next two hours we sat around Blanca’s house eating, talking, and relaxing. I took some pictures of all the beautiful flowers around their house. Her dad really likes flowers so they always have new plants. I lounged in the hammock for a while and joked about needing a pillow and some chocolate. Kathy actually brought me a pillow that was on her chair. Then Blanca emerged with chocolates for everyone. How sweet! She also brought out several family photo albums that we all looked through. I loved the pictures of Blanca’s wedding! It looked like a wonderful day and it was fun to see what everyone looked like back them.
Around 1:30pm it was time to head back to Berlín. We decided to walk the road this time since the other way up is very steep. It was a 1 ½ mile walk back to the house uphill most of the way. Thankfully it was a mostly shady walk and it didn’t rain on us. But we all got tired. A couple times we stopped to rest and to chat a little bit. I can’t imagine what this walk must be like during the rainy season. What a hike! By the time we reached the cemetery in town we were all ready to quit walking. A motor taxi pulled up so all 5 of us piled in to ride back to the house. I wasn’t for sure if the little motor taxi was going to make it up the hill. I was prepared to dive out if the need arose. But we made it back fine. Taking the motor taxi was definitely worth it!! We got back at 2:40pm, 1 hour and 10 minutes after leaving Alejandría.
Attempting to teach the dogs tricks
A waxy-looking flower at Blanca's house
Lounging in the hammock
Walking back to the house
She has fruit on her head
The road back to Berlin
The road is collapsing here
This area is prone to landslides
We've reached actual rock
Riding the rest of the way in a motor taxi
We took a short rest before going out to see the dibujos, also called alfombras (carpets) around Berlín. At 3:30pm Cecilia, Kathy, and I left to go see the dibujos. This adventure took us all around the city. These dibujos were much larger and mostly made out of colored salt. The talent of the people who did these dibujos is incredible! We saw many pictures of Jesus, the Virgin, and crosses. At many of the dibujos lots of different people were working to create the picture. Several dibujos incorporated seeds or food into the picture. Like the dibujos in Alejandría, each one in Berlín was unique and contributed something beautiful to the day.
However, unlike the dibujos in Alejandría, these were not to be used as Stations of the Cross. The main purpose of these dibujos was something for people to look at before the procession that night. Then during the procession everyone would walk over the dibujos. Technically, these dibujos are called “alfombras” (carpets) so they are designed to walk on. But it seemed sad that people went to all the work of creating these works of art and then we’d be trampling all over them. Thankfully, lots of people gathered around the dibujos while they were being created and others walked the street like we were doing to see all the dibujos. Most people were excited to show us their work. We finally returned to the house an hour and 15 minutes later at 4:45pm.
The first "dibujo" or "alfombra" we saw in Berlin
The cup of Christ
The Virgin Mary
Jesus and Mary
Jesus and the world
It's all just common salt
Will you choose a life of Jesus
or a life of money?
Made from churros (like puffy Cheetos)
Gathered around to watch
All the different colors of salt
The area by his hand isn't quite finished
What they were using as a model
A small dibujo
A snowman in a snowstorm?
Jesus and a boat
Spray painting the sand
(This was the only spray painted one)
Lots of spray paint
The black Christ
Lots of detail work
Sand on her face
Photo of the artists
Jesus and the world
Using an syringe to inject ink onto the sand
"You know I'll be busy today and may forget you,
but you, Lord, will not forget me"
"With your blood you redeemed the world"
Seeds and crab shells
Made from jocote (red fruit), conacaste seeds (dark brown,
colored salt (blue), and dried coffee (light brown)
Working on their alfombra
All the kids who worked on it
They used an large stencil to make these
The alfombra of Jesus close to our house
The power went out at the house sometime around 5:00pm but only stayed out for an hour. Originally, we’d planned to leave at 6:00pm for the procession but then we found out that it didn’t leave until 7:00pm. So around 6:45pm Cecilia, Blanca, Idalia, Kathy, and I headed out the door for the procession. They told me it would last around 4 hours. I thought they were kidding, but I later found out that they were serious.
We made it to the church around 7:00pm with several hundred other people to be a part of the procession. It’s hard to describe the procession without actually seeing it. Jesus was carried out of the church inside a large, heavy coffin. The coffin was on a platform that about 30 men carry on their shoulders. The 30 men literally surround the platform with the coffin. Thus, the men carrying the coffin move very slowly taking really small steps. They get into a rhythm as they gradually move up and down the streets. Every once and a while they switch out so that new men are helping to carry.
Behind Jesus is a statue of Mary being carried by four women and behind her a statue of Saint John being carried by four people. All of this is surrounded by a big open space. There are 15 or so people from the Red Cross and the Comandos (similar organization) that carry a large rope making it into a circle around the statues so that no one gets to close or is trampled/crushed. Surrounding the statues and rope are about 600-700 people walking along as part of the procession. For all these reasons, the procession takes a long time. It took us about an hour to walk 8 blocks.
During all this there are three trucks following the procession carrying people who are singing or speaking throughout the procession. They did readings and said the Hail Mary and Our Father over and over during the procession. I was excited to be a part of the procession. We usually go toward the back during processions but I really wanted to be closer to the casket. So we slowly worked our way toward Jesus. I realize it may seem odd to be excited on a day of death and sorrow but I was eager to take part in such an important ritual.
Much of the community was there. I saw children of all ages, young people, adults, and elderly individuals. When I thought about my sore lower back and how much I’d already walked today, I looked around to remind myself of the people I was walking with who were struggling more than me. There were men and women in their 70s and 80s walking. One man close to me was using a cane. Another woman was walking with a severe limp. I saw parents carrying their children throughout the procession. It was all a humbling reminder that I needed to be grateful for the strength I had.
After two hours of processing we took a small short cut to sit down. I felt a little guilty but I welcomed the chance to rest my legs and stretch my back. I noticed that we were not the only ones who took a short cut. There were lots of people who went a different route to take a break. I guess it’s common to take small rests along the way or to join the procession at different points throughout the city.
Eventually the procession came by and we joined up with them once again. It was still fun but I admit that some of the initial excitement had worn off. We walked quite a ways and then there was some discussion about whether or not we wanted to walk back home for the night. We ultimately decided to go home since everyone was exhausted. We stopped to pick up pupusas on the way home for a late dinner. We got home around 10:30pm. I added up the hours and realized we’d walked for over 8 hours today (30 minutes to Alejandría, 2 hours for the procession there, 1 hour home, 1 hour to see the dibujos, 3.5 hours for the Berlín procession).
The procession went on until midnight. I know because I was up working on my blog and I could hear the lady over the loud speaker praying and singing. Around midnight, a final song played and then the procession was over. The whole procession was 5 hours long. I can’t say I’m upset we didn’t stay the whole time. I’m not sure if I would have made it. It has been a long day. A long day to remember the death and burial of Christ.
Jesus being carried out of the church
His coffin was lit up
Jesus is inside
Leading the way
One of the alfombras we didn't see
We got close to him
Pedro carrying his daughter
It was a long procession
Altar servers in the front
Lots of incense
There they go
The spray painted alfombra
Taking a short rest