This is the first time in 22 years that I don’t go to mass on Domingo de Pascua (easter). Every year, since I can remember, Semana Santa was filled with Misas (mass), resos, comida, and a series of other spanish spoken things. My father joked that on Domingo de Pascuas, it would be packed, because it would be the one day everyone would go to Misa. He was right. Growing up, my family would go to church every Domingo. Most weeks it would be at 75% capacity. But today, it would be at 200%, and with almost everyone rocking their best (new) attire. From freshly pressed suits, to too tight dresses. And the unhappy faces of kids (including me) wanting to get out of the not so good looking button up shirt Abuela bought us.
But this year I find myself in Liverpool. I live next to the Catholic Cathedral, literally, and going to Easter mass (or any of the scheduled ceremonies) would have been effortless. But I didn’t go.
For a while now, I have considered myself to no longer accept or embrace the Abrahamic faith of Christianity as my own. I am not Catholic. I do not believe in the Abrahamic God, or the divinity of Jesus, though I think he was a seriously progressive and revolutionary guy (for his time), even if he didn’t actually exist. But there is something that came to mind today. If I were in New York, I would have gone to Misa.
I can’t identify with being a Catholic, but there are certain practices growing up that I knew to be more Latino than Catholic. Misa was not only to hear “la palabra”, but to gather as a community, to see friends, family, to gossip, to cry, to laugh, to catch up. And interestingly enough, it meant so much more that it was all in spanish.
I remember my Padre and Abuela telling me stories about Semana Santa from back home, how during the week all you would do is pray, and on Sabado de Gloria, la chancla would come out in full force (from having taken a break all of Semana Santa). My Abuela would make Torejas, something I miss so much right now. During the whole week, you would eat Casamiento, and every creative non-meat dish possible (hard for Argentines). We would pray, but we would also get together for the sake of it, all week. I would hang with friends from Misa, cousins, everyone. Even on Sunday, the people who you would never see re-entered your life, sometimes only for moments, but mostly for comida at someones house, the diner, or at a party. Growing up, Pascua meant something more than a man named Jesus experiencing the story of “la pasion”.
But as I grew up, I confronted the contradiction of the religion I was born into. And so, I abandoned the belief system and chose another path. Today, I would identify as something else, and maybe consider myself to be “searching”. Even so, there is something I cannot divorce myself from, and that is my Latino roots.
Culturally speaking, I might as well be Catholic. I would still go to “La Misa de Gallo” (I did actually, with two fellow Marshalls in Amsterdam this past Christmas) because its how I was brought up and feels part of my Latino identity. Instead of waiting for “Papa Noel” till morning to open presents (which I would tease my non-Latino friends about) we would open them after we got back from Misa at midnight, sometimes later because we would make a stop at someones house for more food. As I grew older, I would joke with friends that while no one would go to the ceremony at La Iglesia for a baptism or Quince blessing, damn well everyone would be at the party. Comuniones were a huge deal too. Not only had the kids passed their tests and learned their “resos”, but they now got to parade through the Iglesia halls in all white mini sized suits and dresses, holding elaborate hand decorated candles, holy books from a botanica, and rosarios, sometimes made out of gold and silver, as gifts from their Padrinos. That day, like Pascua, Misa would be at 200% capacity, everyone with their digital cameras, some with the dying breed of disposables, looking like the paparazzi, trying to capture their kid eating “la ostia” or making that face when they taste wine for the first time. And of course, all the parties that followed.
Many of these religious ceremonies, rituals, and events are interlinked with culture. As a Latino, part of my identity was created and challenged in the halls of La Iglesia. In those halls, everything happened. From playing outside and scaling the Monastery walls as kids, to growing up and talking about dating and school. But what also happened was that we learned about our past, nuestros paises, and who we were, in Spanish with English subtitles. However, religion was never at the forefront of these experiences.
So what? Many who know me know that the clashes I have with religion are fundamental to my understanding of oppression. For me, Catholicism is the religion of the colonizer, as it was the Spanish Crown that forced it upon my ancestors. There are other things I disagree with, such as how homophobic religious dogma is, patriarchal, and so on. But I also understand that for my community, and yes, I am still part of that community, religion is an intrinsic part of their identity.
The personal struggle is twofold. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and be part of an institution I fundamentally disagree with. However, I also want to maintain my roots intact, and part of those roots are found in the halls of that Catholic monastery in Suffern, especially since so many I love consider that place their spiritual and personal home.
Right now, I am trying to find answers to these questions. Maybe in these two years away, I’ll find it.