Religion landed in the regions of Guatemala when humans first settled the area. Traditional Mayan spiritual practice weathered the arrival of the Spanish explorers and Catholicism in the1500s and the Evangelical Christian introduction after the deadly earthquake of 1975. Today, in Guatemala, freedom of religious practice flourishes and the greatest demonstration of the Catholic faith comes during Holy Easter Week, known in Spanish as Semana Santa.
The city of Antigua – just a few hours from where Reading Village works – hosts magnificent processions throughout the week. Thousands of visitors come from all over the world to witness processions winding through the city, to see the alters adorned in each church and to marvel at the carpets that line the streets created in order to be trampled by the feet of the purple-clad worshipers who carry sacred floats, called Andas. Processions often last more than twelve hours. Bands play religious hymns in advance of the arrival of the floats. People pay for the honor to be among the hundreds who carry the Anda each block.
Arguably, the grandest sights of all are the intricate carpets created the night before a procession by families, businesses, friends. Most are made inside frames hammered into the cobblestone streets. Brightly colored sawdust is set into molds and patterns transform into religious images and words. Fruits, flowers, pine and fragrant herbs are added and the result is an artistic masterpiece against a backdrop of historic buildings and vibrant Mayan culture.
Two years in a row I was invited by the owners of a Peruvian restaurant to help create the carpet in front of their restaurant. They used only natural products. We made the base from pine needles, lined the edges with flowers and fruits. We began just before midnight and took a break for hot chocolate at 1:00 a.m. I confess I didn’t make it to the end, but I stayed long enough to help lay down the flowers to form the word paz (peace) onto the pine needle base. And that, in the end, is the message.
Just a few hours away, high in the hills above Lake Atitlan, many of our youth leaders in the communities where Reading Village works may not ever see a Semana Santa procession or create a carpet. Their families subsist on just a few dollars a day and they’ve never had the luxury of traveling much beyond their small communities. Despite the disparity, the message of peace flourishes there more than anywhere else I’ve had the privilege to witness. Every day our youth leaders work, study, and teach for the same dream: paz.
By: Jan Snooks, Reading Village Board Member