Every Sunday I have this ritual. It’s a new thing for me. I am trying to work on routine…trying to ground myself…trying to connect my heart to my environment. And so, I roll out of bed and start thinking about church. I think about it and ask myself if I really want to go. There was once a time in my life when it was just a given that I would go, but now, I find myself seeking other options for spirituality. I have been singing a new song.
If I decide to go to church, I do the normal life thing of getting dressed and all that jazz. I also eat something (even though it is against church teaching) and then I begin the journey. I jump on the number 46 bus…it goes from one poor neighborhood to another…I am somewhere in the middle of the line but economically speaking I stand out! I love riding the bus, and somehow that seems a bit strange to me…but never the less, it’s a part of my life. It’s such a real experience, passing through the different neighborhoods, looking at the people getting on and off, wondering where they came from and where they are going. That in itself is a spiritual experience. Its the reality of liberation theology right in front of me without ever stepping into a church. I wonder what the Vatican thinks of such revelations?
I’ve learned about the layout of the city by riding the buses and the images I have gathered run through my head when I think about the things I love about El Salvador. Mostly, its about the people….I have fallen in love as Arrupe would say. As the bus passes the big parks, and the hospital Rosales, I can’t help to feel a tug at my heart. People say that Rosales is the hospital for the poor and that you go there to die. It’s not a pretty sight and the people waking in and out of that place don’t really look alive. I don’t know how you could when dignity is handed over as admission. Someday I will go there to see it for myself…but for now, I just look at the reality from my bus window.
From Rosales, the number 46 goes down the hill to El Centro. And within minutes the streets are full of people and little booths of vendors selling everything from fruits and veggies to bootleg DVDs to clothing and tools. You can find anything at El Centro and for cheap. I love El Centro…I love that it’s dirty and raw…and real. To me, this is San Salvador. And after a while I can see the top the Cathedral which is my stop. My cute to get up is the stop light right before the central park. And when I do, I feel like I am stepping into a new reality. A change from observation to living.
It’s the Cathedral where Romero’s funeral mass was, when over 40 people were killed as the government opened fire. The Cathedral is where I was when I saw my first protest, when some people overtook the tower to protest the conditions in the prisons. The Cathedral is the only sight seeing place I went to when I first came to El Salvador back in 2001 after the earthquakes, and so every time I go to the Cathedral, I remember that experience. For me, the Cathedral is a central point of reference…or reflection and of internal conflict.
There are two religious services at the Cathedral on Sunday. The formal mass is held upstairs in the ornate décor of what you imagine a church to be. The doors are open and its loud and I call it the hierarchy mass, because that is the mass for the people who follow the Catholicism of the Vatican. Downstairs in the cripta is where I go to the Misa de los Pobres (The Mass of the Poor). This is the place where Romero’s body now rests and people come to pray at the monument that memorializes him. The people gathered are normal Salvadorans, many of whom are very poor and travel a bit of distance to celebrate there. This is the people’s mass and the people have to fight to keep it. The funny thing is, there is nothing out of the ordinary at this mass. The readings are the same, the offerings are the same, the priest has the same teaching…but the hearts of the people are different. Every Sunday, the people at this mass convert the readings and Romero’s past reflections into real soul food. They take the message and apply it to their life…the life that struggles to create social change. And I guess the hierarchy is threatened by that…
My Sunday trips to the Cathedral certainly don’t resemble the times I go to church with my family…but then again, my life here doesn’t really resemble the life I have anywhere else.