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Four gatherings: two secular, two religious



The big secular news of the week was the New York meeting if the World Economic Forum, which brought together the powerful of this world. Others had been invited, like Sam Huntington and some religious leaders, to provide intellectual content and a sampling of world opinion. Meanwhile, in Munich, the military leaders of the world were meeting, in the view of critics the arm of the first group. Both meetings could be subject to serious, informed criticism, but in both cases the street protesters were a rabble that provided a caricature of such criticism.

At the same time, two religious ceremonies was taking place. The first was the marriage in Amsterdam Cathedral of the heir to the Dutch throne and an Argentine blond. Not only was royalty well represented but also the unroyal, including Nelson Mandela. Like all such grand weddings, it was a social event wrapped in religious tinfoil. Conspicuously absent were the parents of the bride, who had been affiliated with the Argentine dictatorships. Outside one crowd, led by Argentines, protested noisily, while the Dutch provided a welcoming crowd for the couple. The whole show seemed silly and unfortunate.

It was a relief to take refuge in the Cathedral of San Fernando in San Antonio, Texas, which was celebrating Candlemass, "la candelaria". However much skeptics mock, the ceremony shows a simple faith and illuminates for Hispanists the Catholic origins of Spanish America. Candlemass really commemorates the Saturday ceremony at which Joseph and Mary presented the infant Christ in the temple. A completely secularized Jewish friend of mine is amused by the story that, while Christ ascended into heaven, his foreskin remained on earth, the only relic of His presence here. It was kept as a relic in some cathedral. I have been trying to find out which, and also what happened it.

The stress at the Candlemass Sunday ceremony was all on Christ as the light which lightens the world. The cathedral was full of candles, most held in the hands of the congregation. As usual, the readings from the Old and New Testaments were related to the occasion. The prophet Zacharias warned against evil, including lying, but he made no mention of diplomats. The gospel reading came from the Beatitudes, in which Christ asserts that the meek and powerless who carry out the Lord's commands shall have more power than the powerful of this world (read those meeting in New York and Munich). The meek shall inherit the earth; they are waiting patiently.

In imitation of the presentation, people brought their babies to be blessed, or the infant Christ from the Nativity groups some Catholic families have in their homes. After the ceremony these dolls go back to the group. Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Parishioners were urged to bring their palm fronds from last year's Palm Sunday. They will be burned and the ashes used in the Ash Wednesday ceremony. This is also the Sunday on which nuns and male religious renew their vows, so they came to the cathedral and did so before the congregation. It is also the feast of San Blas, whom Father David García named in his English form, "Blaise", which is really the French form, as in Blaise Pascal. I have long wondered why San Blas was so celebrated in Spain. It turns out that he cures ailments of the throats, so the throats of the congregation were blessed. Blaise, oor Blasius, was martyred under Diocletian on February 3, 316. On his way to execution, he cured a child suffering from a throat affliction. In the Catholic tradition, he is one of the group of fourteen (twice seven) saints noted for their help in time of need. Once very popular, he is now almost forgotten. Tell me honestly, did you know much about him?

The Cathedral of San Fernando is dedicated to the Virgins of La Candelaria and Guadalupe, and there are images of both. In earlier postings we discussed the belief that some people have that their Virgin is different from the Virgin in other countries or shrines. Father David García was careful to point out that they are representations of the one Virgin Mary. He told the story of the two Virgins, clearly planted by the Spaniards to justify their conquests. I wondered how Father García could tell them with a straight faith. The Virgin of La Candelaria and her infant Christ both hold candles, She is the patroness of the Canary Islands, where the little image was miraculously washed ashore and found by a native Guanche, a story which parallels the story of the sea voyage of the remains of St. James to the area of Santiago in Spain. This was before the Spanish conquered the islands in 1479. The natives were puzzled, but when the Spaniards arrived, they could tell them : "See? this was a divine warning that we were coming".

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a similar story. She was discovered by Juan Diego just before the Spaniards reached the Mexico City area. She is pregnant and fat, showing that a New World was about to be born. The two Virgins thus complement each other. People from the Canary Islands are said to have peopled the San Antonio area. Canary Islanders were indeed important in the conquest of America, but they were not considered Spaniards. For centuries they stock expression was "Spaniards and Canary Islanders". In telling the story of La Candelaria, there was no mention of this.

So WAISers, take your choice. There is the Candlemass, which with all its incredible features, is imbued with kindness and love. On the other hand there is the real world in new York and Munich, where they were painfully absent. What is happening to religion in this country? The Arthur Andersen accounting company issued "Ten Commandments for Risk Management" and then broke them all. A Rocky Mountain News editor, Vincent Carroll, has written Christianity on Trial, in which he denounces anti-religious bigots. and points out what the US owes to the Christian religion. So does Latin America. We have a mass of financial scandals, of which Enron is but one, Latin America has an even worse record. Contrast this with the good record of godless Sweden. "Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord " shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father". Go, Enron, and do thou likewise.

Ronald Hilton - 2/3/02


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