The morning of the dedication of the soup kitchen in Antigua, Guatemala, was full of sunshine and excitement.
The day before, I had arrived back at the house of my email friend with a multitude of recently purchased flowers in disarray. The ladies were ecstatic with the quantity, and even more impressed when they learned there were a few blooms chosen from each of the flower vendors, thus incorporating more members of the community for this monumental event. Where I saw a jumble of shapes and colors, they saw a masterful creation just waiting to emerge, and thus it did!
We humbly carried the vases to the soup kitchen, where the priest from San Francisco Church was going to say a dedication mass. The ladies had put aside many roses, from which they had removed the petals and strewn them down the aisle between the tables. At the end of the aisle sat a makeshift altar for the ceremony.
The soup kitchen was soon filled over capacity with every seat and standing place occupied. All stood while the priest and altar boys processed down the rose petals and all participated fully in the mass, responses and prayers in unison, as though one voice. For those who did not have a seat during the service, they kneeled on the concrete floor. Old and young, lame and healthy, kneeled!
The communion line stretched around the building as the devout Catholics went up to receive the sacrament, eyes closed, lips moving in silent prayer as the line progressed. Some were so joyful they actually had tears in their eyes and dripping down their cheeks!
It was evident that the church played a huge role in their lives. They genuinely appreciated everything they had, including this new gift of a soup kitchen. Many had walked miles, some barefoot, to get to this gathering. It struck me that in the U.S., where “things” are so abundant and we have so much, most of us do not have that type of dedication to our religions. With a bit of sorrow, I realized that my life is somewhat less fulfilled without this all-encompassing passion. For such indigent, houseless, moneyless, possessionless group of people to be so jubilant about their faith is a lesson for all of us.
After the awe-inspiring service, I donned an apron and joined the other ladies in passing out the food that had been prepared in their new kitchen; pupusas (corn tortillas stuffed with refried beans) and pepian (a thick stew with spices, chicken and rice in a tomato sauce) were the main menu items. There was also a huge cake donated by a local bakery for the occasion. In order to have enough for the crowd, small, one-inch pieces were cut and handed out.
What a treat this was! Women, old and young, and especially the children, giggled with excitement when the morsel was placed on their plates. It really was a special day for them!
I stayed for another week in Guatemala and had many grand adventures, some of which I may recount in the future. It was a life-altering trip, much more inspiring than a trip to Disney World or a California beach. My perception of religion was changed; I saw it as a joy to behold, an extra-special gift for these people who had so little else.