Greetings and blessings be upon you as we enter the mysterious season of Lent! It still kind of blows my mind how early Lent and Easter are this year, considering that a little more than a month ago we were still celebrating the birth of the Lord. However, that's just how things go with liturgical calendars, and time always seems to surprise us. I guess all the better since both sets of my family visits that I mentioned in my previous post will come during this great time of preparation!
For those of you who don't speak Spanish nor took the time to put the two words of the title into an online translator (knowing full well that I would define them anyway), "rezo" is one of the many words in Spanish for "prayer" while "risa" is the equivalent of "laughter." These two might seem at odds with each other, but I would say the union of the two best describes my wonderful pilgrimage experience in Fátima, Portugal from February 8-12, appropriately ending right before Ash Wednesday. It was also "Carnaval" in various parts of Spain, hence why I didn't miss any class on that Monday and Tuesday. I'm sure participating in a specific "Carnaval" festivity would have been a unique cultural experience as well, but I wouldn't exchange my time in Fátima for anything.
On Friday the 8th, our group from Galicia, numbering at least 45 people from all parts of the region, left from Santiago around 5 pm in the afternoon and arrived at a small town outside of Fátima around 10:30 pm. After a chilly night in a Portuguese seminary (being in the cold was another prominent theme of the whole pilgrimage), other groups from all over Spain arrived there in the morning, as this small town was the launching point for the 13 kilometer march to Fátima. For the march itself and for the rest of the pilgrimage, we were divided into groups that more or less tried to carry an even representation of each region of Spain. My group, #26, was strongest in its representation of Toledo, Sevilla, Barcelona and good ol' Santiago de Compostela (three of us). Upon learning of the group assignments, I was first taken aback that not everyone in mine was from Santiago nor Galicia, but it definitely was a blessing to get to know so many great, diverse people in such little time. It may sound strange, but by the end of those days, the people in your group felt like your family, and it was hard to say good-bye so soon. I first noticed this dynamic of "rezo/risa" on that first leg of the pilgrimage. For the first half or so, "risa" thrived with shouts of "¡Viva la Virgen!" or "El 26, es el mejor, de alegría y de peregrinación (The 26, is the best, of joy and pilgrimage)" and numerous chistes, or funny stories. As we grew closer to Fátima, the emphasis appropriately switched more to "rezo" with silent meditation for a few kilometers and praying the rosary. When we finally arrived at the Sanctuary in Fátima that evening, all 600 of us, give or take, entered in silence from the new basilica entrance, flanked on either side by families holding processional candles, a moving experience indeed for all involved. We celebrated Mass in the little chapel outside, built there as requested by the Blessed Virgin to mark the site of the apparitions. However, after this, one more experience of "risa" marked my evening as I searched for where I would stay the night. Asking one of the volunteers for help, I told him the name of my hostel indicated on my group card several times, but he kept giving me puzzled looks. We learned, to my great surprise, that I had been assigned to one of the all-women's dorms, so some "jajajaja" moments ensued. I'm not sure if someone higher up simply thought Ethan was a feminine name, or perhaps more likely, I had subconsciously marked "M" on the original sign up sheet thinking of it as "Male" instead of "Mujer." Claaaasssiicccc Ethan.
In addition to personal group discussion and Mass, my favorite spiritual parts of the pilgrimage were praying the Stations of the Cross (La Vía Crucis), visiting the apparition sites, and a vigil service in the chapel. In what would best be described as a meditation orchard, we walked up the hillside praying the traditional Stations of the Cross in the afternoon, and although we were nowhere near Jerusalem, the suffering and death of Jesus in first century Palestine just felt so real to me. This may just be coincidence, but it started to rain hard and the wind whipped at the 11th station, "Jesus is Nailed to the Cross." However, by the 15th station, the Resurrection, the wind had calmed and the sun was shining on the top of the hill. One day, we visited the sites where an angel first appeared to the shepherd children, Lucía, Jacinta and Francisco, before the Marian apparitions began. Seeing the very simple house of Lucía and the simple grove of trees where the apparitions happened helped me understand how God often reveals much of his mystery to the smallest of us in humble beginnings. Finally, the vigil service, in which we prayed silently amidst occasional reflections on the events of Fátima, was quite compelling for me as the true pilgrim experience. It was cold, wet and long, and I loved every minute of it!
From a social perspective, Fátima was like a pie in the face of Spanish culture (truly Spanish because of the diversity of the people). I heard/had difficulty understanding so many various Spanish accents and quickly realized that I needed to improve my colloquial vocabulary to understand humor. One of my friends from Santiago in the group named Macarena taught me, with great enthusiasm, several "must know" phrases in Spanish to be hip and cool, which I've been employing almost to a fault ever since. To answer what everyone is inevitably thinking, the answer is "yes": her name is spelled and pronounced like the famous song. In fact, one of the priests for the Youth Delegation in Santiago would always introduce her last in the group (and still does) as "Heeeyyy, Macarena" with everyone else responding with "Aaaahhaaa" in rhythm. It's pretty great. Though we all weren't in the same group, I got to know a lot of my peers from Santiago whom I had seen at Wednesday Mass and other church functions often, but whom I had not met. So, in short, Fátima was a springboard for Spanish friend explosion!
Being Catholic and being at Whitworth, I have frequently had the privilege to explain some topics of the faith to my non-Catholic Christian friends, either informally or in the context of Primetime. Along with the Eucharist, sexual ethics and the Pope (please pray for the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI), the topic of the Church's relationship with the Blessed Virgin often has come up. Though I have explained the role of Mary as an intercessor, I'll be honest that I did not understand the full importance (and I'm still learning) of the Blessed Mother's role in our lives until this pilgrimage. Our Lady really is there for us as a Mother, a Mother who wants nothing more than for us to know and love her Son as she does. A really great way of trying to understanding the Virgin's role is that of the relationship between the Moon (Mary) and the Sun (God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit). The Sun is the source of life on this planet, and without it's constant burning and shining life would cease to exist. Although the Sun is of utmost importance, we all know from experience that the Sun is so powerfully bright and shining that we cannot look at it directly for long periods of time. Obviously that doesn't make the Sun bad; rather, it shows how awesome and high above us it is. Keeping with the astronomical metaphor, the full Moon lights up the night sky but does not contain the means within itself to produce light. Rather, the light of the Moon gives evidence of the glory and power of the Sun ("Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.") Nevertheless, the light of the Moon is much easier to behold for longer periods of time, and we can learn much and appreciate the Sun even more from our study of the Moon. So it is with our relationship with the Blessed Virgin. It's not a perfect metaphor, nor can it cover all the complexities of Mariology, but I think it's a good start if you've never tried or have had reservations about getting to know the Mother of God.
Thanks for reading my diverse stream of consciousness, posting comments, and most importantly your prayers! May the Blessed Mother, through her Immaculate Heart, lead you always to be more faithful in your pilgrimage to the Lord.
Part of our group from Santiago inside the new basilica^
Left: One of my best friends here, Rafael from Brazil (He leaves in less than a week :(
Center: Javi García, one of the priests for the Youth Delegation in Santiago and a great personality.
Inside the little chapel. The statue marks the exact spot where the Virgin appeared.