Friday, December 9, 2011

Un Giro por Guatemala (A Pass through Guatemala)

Towing a stalled vehicle driven by Maynor over the mountain pass (below) that leads to Comayagua.

After the initial weekend in Honduras, assisting in the integration of new members of the Missioners of Christ community in Comayagua, we had planned to depart on Monday, November 21 for Guatemala. However a few unexpected (but not so uncommon) interruptions (like a car breaking down and needing to be towed). Delayed our departure until Tuesday.

Fr. Victor Alvizurez, pastor of San Augustín Parish, Jalapa.
Our first stop in Guatemala was the town of San Augustín, in the Diocese of Jalapa. Fr. Victor Alvizurez is pastor there of a parish, the size of a small diocese, with an exceptional commitment to mission. He  has more than 1,000 parishioners in the 8 sectors of his parish in different stages of missionary formation. We met with Fr. Victor to try to learn about and understand better what is taking place in his parish, as well as to explore possible future opportunities of collaboration, especially involving youth and lay missionaries from Honduras.

San José el Viejo Language School, Antigua, Guatemala.
From San Augustín, we continued on to Guatemala City, where we were graciously received and provided with accommodations by Fr. Michael Lenihan, OFM (formerly pastor of Santos Mártires Parish in Comayagua, Honduras), guardian of the friary at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Colonia Reformita. From there, on Wednesday, we made a one day excursion to Antigua to coordinate with the San José el Viejo language school, where many of the friars and lay missionaries go to study Spanish when they first arrive, and visit the host families that house them. Our brief stop in Antigua afforded the opportunity to visit the tomb of Santo Hermano Pedro, who was canonized by Blessed John Paul II in Guatemala City in 2002, in the Church of St. Francis, as well as to view some of the many colonial ruins for which Antigua is known.

Iglesia San Francisco, Antigua, Guatemala - where Santo Hermano Pedro de Betancourt is buried.

In the background, one of the two volcanos visible from Antigua.

One of the many ruins of churches in Antigua

A view of Guatemala city from one of the surrounding mountains.
Before leaving Guatemala City, we also had the chance to visit our good friends, Rodolfo and Reina Turcios Ruiz (and their daughter Ana Julia), who recently located there. Rodolfo and Reina are Hondurans who have both lived many years in the US. I had the privilege of celebrating their wedding in Comayagua several years ago. Rodolfo is a civil engineer working on international water management construction projects. Reina is a doctor specializing in epidemiology, working for the US Centers for Disease Control. Her new position in Central America will enable her to assist public health workers in several countries to identify and reduce risk factors related to infectious diseases. We hope to be able to exchange information that will be helpful both for our  missionary efforts and her health related efforts.

Rodolfo Ruiz, Anna Julia Ruiz, Dr. Reina Turcios-Ruiz, Fr. Herald, Roger Blanco and Carol Restaine in Guatemala City.
Our final stop on our "giro" through Guatemala was the border town of Esquipulas, very near to both Honduras and El  Salvador. A large basilica (run by the Benedictines) in  Esquipulas houses the famous Santo Cristo Negro - a large black crucifix. The crucifix was commissioned by the newly baptized local indigenous people in the 16th century. The sculptor in Antigua was paid by crops cultivated by the Mayans. Perhaps because of the dark color of the skin of the corpus, and because it was a work they themselves had commissioned and paid for by the work of their hands and sweat of their brow, as well as because of the exceptional beauty of the crucifix, an almost instantaneous recognition and bond was established with the indigenous tribes. Hundreds and often thousands of Central Americans visit the shrine daily, sometimes waiting in line for hours to spend a few moments near the crucifix. Blessed John Paul II visited the sanctuary in 1996. I was deeply moved by the piety and faith of the pilgrims I saw there.

Santo Cristo Negro (the Holy Black Christ) in Esquipulas, Guatemala.

Roger Blanco outside the Basilica of Esquipulas, Guatemala.
Our principal reason for stopping in Esquipulas, though, was to visit Fr. Bernardino Quiñones, OFM at the Convento Belén on the outskirts of the town.  Fr. Bernardino made contact with us about a year ago through a friend of the friars and expressed a desire to meet us and discuss possibilities of  some kind of collaboration. Fr. Bernardino has carried  out extensive evangelization among the local people in the vicinity of Esquipulas, and produced  a  large amount of devotional and apologetic resources.

Convento Belén, Esquipulas, Guatemala.

After this rather "whirlwind" tour through Guatemala, we landed back in Comayagua for a week of formation with youth (blog post to follow).

Sanctuary of the chapel at Convento Belén (above and below).

Fr. Bernardino has a deep love for the liturgy and religious art of Eastern Christianity, and is himself an accomplished iconographer. He combines the canons and classic forms of traditional iconography with color schemes taken from the artwork of the indigenous Mayans, creating  a stunning result. One of the most fascinating qualities of the icons is the texture produced by overlaying colors in a semi-transparent way, sometimes combined with a slight bas relief effect. Additional icons by Fr. Bernardino can be found on pages 6, 7 and 8 of the "Galería¨at

Icons in the chapel at Convento Belén; the Nativity (above),
and the Entry into Jerusalem and the Transfiguration (below).

Statue of the Virgin Mary clothed in the Franciscan habit.

Fr. Herald and Carol with Fr. Bernardino Quiñones, OFM, curator of Convento  Belén.

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