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RELIGION: Sunday report from San Antonio



As usual, Sunday mass at San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio was colorful. The front pews were filled with the fiesta committee, the men dressed up on brilliant uniforms, most of them white. What fiesta, lasting a week or ten days? Which Saint Anthony? The original one was a misanthropic hermit who lived in a cave, resisting temptation. Not much given to fiestas, obviously. He is usually shown accompanied by a pig, and for this reason he is the patron saint of butchers. Strange choice of a pet. Possibly it was to show that he was a Christian. When was the Jewish ban on eating pork dropped? Presumably when Christianity spread and cased to be a Jewish sect. In any case, St. Anthony won't do, because his feast is January 17. Was it St. Anthony of Padua? It was he after whom the city was named. But his feast day is June 13, so that won't do either. Born in Portugal, he spent his early years in Africa, trying to convert the Moors. Probably he did not have much success, since he is the saint one invokes to recover lost objects. (That will solve a serious problem I have; I can't tell you how many things have disappeared in my den). Since the theme of the day was baptism, he must have decided that priests must have children brought up as Christians. He is usually represented with the Bible and a child in his hand. But today is April 21, not June 13. What fiesta then? From a remark by Father David García, it has something to do with the independence of Texas, obviously the decisive victory at San Jacinto on April 21 , 1836, at which Sam Houston routed and captured Santa Anna. I saw the large monument there in 1938, Probably Father Garcia's reference was very short because Mexicans have mixed feelings about it. Anyhow a fiesta is a fiesta.

Most of his sermon was praise for the fiesta, which gives people an opportunity to get to know each other, but, he warned, don't drink or eat too much. I would have thought there are enough holidays already to do all that. However, the fiesta is different from other holidays. The main feature is a parade in which not only the men in their uniforms but even children can take part. It is given a religious significance by celebrating baptism, since St. Anthony of Padua is the saint of children, presumably especially of lost children (see lost objects, above). So Father Garcia blessed some water, and, using his goupillon, scooped some up from a jug held by an acolyte, and sprinkled the congregation with it as they walked around the church. The lesson from Acts tells how Peter told his disciples to be baptized to clean them of the sins of this wretched world. I recommend this treatment for everyone involved in TV, but I doubt it would do much good. Some 3,000 were baptized.

This is the basis for the belief in adult baptism practiced by the Baptists and other sects including the Four Square Gospel of Aimee Semple McPherson, who died in 1944. In 1937 I attended one of her services in Los Angeles, at which she dunked the converts in a pool on the stage. Did her sect survive? Of course, adult baptism goes back to John the Baptist. Catholics now celebrate two baptisms, one as a baby (when the stress is on the parents' responsibility) and again in a pool (see above) as a responsible adult. There is no space here to go into the history of baptism which goes back to the worship of water in antiquity.

Viewing the Mexican Americans on their best Sunday behavior, I have often wondered how that carries over into their daily life. Last week, James Q. Wilson spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco about his new book The Marriage Problem. Divorce has greatly weakened the family, but the Mexicans of California have an excellent record, unlike the Puerto Ricans of New York. The divorce capital of the United States is Oklamoma. How come? Too few Mexicans, too many oilmen?

Ronald Hilton - 4/21/02


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