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Carrying Jesus to the City of Churches

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And here come the balloons!
The thin cobblestone streets, the colonial architecture, and the horse and buggies of Antigua, Guatemala make me feel like I'm back in Colonial times, but not for long--the large numbers of tourists and cars quickly bring me back to 1999. Antigua, Guatemala is the old (antigua) capital of the Spanish colony of Guatemala that once extended up into Southern Mexico. Since it was destroyed several times by earthquakes, there are ruins throughout the city of old colonial churches intermixed with the reconstructed colonial architecture of the present day. The city planners moved the capital to its current location because they thought that the deep ravines around the city would serve as shock absorbers during earthquakes (they were wrong!). The city has a very Spanish feel and is very different from the rest of Guatemala. Christianity was one of the main things the conquistadors from Spain brought to Guatemala, and its presence is felt strongly here in Antigua. Not only do the ruins of churches surround us, but dozens of beautiful churches still in use fill the city as well.

Straining under the weight of Mary
Jamila and I just happened to be visiting on a Sunday during Lent. Every Sunday for these forty days, people from the surrounding villages make a procession to the different churches and the Cathedral of Antigua. They spend most of the morning walking the miles between their churches and Antigua. One village led their procession with men dressed as Roman Soldiers, just like those who led Jesus to the cross. They also dressed men in purple robes with scarves imitating the Arabs in Palestine, where Jesus lived, walking and waving incense.

It took 46 men to carry this float!

The most amazing thing about the processions was that they carried huge wooden floats that portrayed the image of Jesus carrying the cross. One of the floats was so heavy that there were 46 men carrying it! Even with so many men working together, they were still stooping under the weight. The women followed behind, dressed in their Sunday best, carrying an equally large float with the image of Mary praying. Those things have to be heavy!

"How much do those weigh?' I asked two boys dressed in purple robes.

"I don't know!" answered Oscar, a twelve-year old from San Felipe. "A lot!"

And, of course, a band!

"How far did you carry it?" I asked.

"From San Felipe," his friend Efrain, who is also twelve, told me. "It's about two kilometers from here. We do it every year, every Sunday during Lent. It's fun, but my shoulder hurts!"

I couldn't believe how hard everyone was working just to get the floats to the celebration. Then I remembered that the floats must return to the small surrounding villages and come back next Sunday! Ay carumba!!


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