Around this time I year I always have time to reflect of Holy Week. From 1993-1998 I lived in Latin America, in Catholic countries where Holy Week is something more than a 1/2 day off on Good Friday. In Bolivia, Cochabamba where I lived Holy Week was taken seriously, in fact more seriously than Easter.
I worked in Bolivia in a prison. The priest we had in our jail, Fr Benoit, created for me the perfect Holy Thursday, as many know Catholic priests wash the feet of the congregation on Holy Thursday in homage to Jesus. Benoit, a worker priest, asked the inmates, 6000 living in a city block to wash each other's feet. And they did, for three hours. This was the closest I have been to the spirit of the Gospels in my life, not in Rome, not in Assisi not even in my 'socially progressive' home parish did anyone approximate this level of peace. But 6000 inmates washing feet in Bolivia, more spiritual than anything at the Vatican.
When however I left Jail for the night I spent the night wandering from church to church as is done in Bolivia 'visiting' the Blessed Sacrament. It is the custom for Catholics to do this to spend hours in prayer reflecting on the Passion of Jesus. In Cochabamba, a very poor city, people pulled out all the stops and every colonial church was filled with people, prostrate, visiting the enormous altars constructed for the event.
Then of course Good Friday, processions, chains around waists, penitentes with their tall black hats, all of this dramatic and full of anguish. Easter Sunday, the Churches were half full there was little time for resurrection. It reminds me of a Bolivian who told me once " you cannot possibly understand us and our lives, your flag flies on the moon" and how could I understand them? It was the suffering that mattered to these people and this colored their lives not some Easter lilied notion of rebirth. Most Americans, Catholic or Protestant cannot understand this and this is a feeling that sits on me and causes me to reflect on the Passion.
To understand this pain you need only go to Lima, and see the Statue of Francisco Pizarro, astride his horse, and his Tomb in the Cathedral of Lima festooned always with Flowers to try to understand this psychology of pain. The man who destroyed the Inca Empire and brought slavery to South America is lauded with a statue and a tomb of fine Italian marble.
Holy Week has resulted in allot of violence against Jews, native people and many others; Jerusalem was conquered during the Crusades on Good Friday and the Crusaders killed the Jews and Muslims singing Pange Lingua, Cuzco, the Inca Capital was also taken on Good Friday and after they cleared the plaza of Indian Dead they venerated the cross as we still do in Catholic Churches today by kissing the wood of the cross. Christians with a Child and a Sword have reeked much havoc.
But so has everyone else. Muslims and Christians are tied for hypocrite religions in my mind shall we pair up atrocities? Crusades/Muslim Invasion of Egypt in 650, Moors invade Spain/Catholics Reconquer Spain, Muslims Invade Ethiopia/Eithiopians Invade Yemen, Russians Kill Turks/Turks Kill Armenians. and on and on until as Gandhi said the whole world is blinded. And now our Jewish friends are in the act in Israel killing Palestinians. No one gets the message of the Passion, that we are to be servants, not masters.
All of this is my history, it has to be embraced, opposed but embraced. The fact is that I believe fully that
Jesus, Mohammed, and Moses have long ago cried their eyes dry from our cruelity and lack of sense.
Mozart said once that he remained Catholic because the thought that he would be cut off from taking Communion is Chartres Cathedral was too horrifying for him to endure. I remain a Catholic Christian because to leave is too easy and we must face our history fully. Running away to some secular nirvana will not solve these evils, that has been tried and the result is Auschwitz and the Gulag.
Unlike many of my poet friends I will be in Church for the Triduum of Easter reflecting on a Child with a sword and a cross. I will not turn away from all of this but I will embrace it blood and all and continue to ask why?