Buenas Noches dear reader! What an awesome day! The experience in Acteal is one I will never forget. We have had many of those moments on this trip, but this was truly a highlight. We left around nine this morning in two vans and rode out of San Cristobal up into the hills to the north. The views of the green hills were breathtaking. The winding roads were precarious in some places and the bumpy ride did not agree with all stomachs, but we made it without any incidents, if you know what I mean! We had very good drivers who were braver than me!
We got to Acteal just in time to see the procession of community and church leaders head down the stairs to the chapel. As I said in my earlier post, today was the celebration and mass for Las Abejas who were killed in the massacre on December 22, 1997. We hopped out of the vans and followed the procession down the stairs. We then made our way to seats in the concrete bleachers. The service was spoken in Spanish and Tzotzil. What I was not ready for was how welcomed we were made to feel. So welcomed that we ended up being a part of the service! The priest first invited us invited us all to come up front to introduce ourselves. We rose from our places, went down the steps to the front and each took the microphone and said our names. I heard some good natured giggling from the audience as we spoke with our United States accents. It felt strange and at the same time I felt honored to tell them my name. When all had been introduced we went back to our seats.
A little while later the priest invited Chris to come and say a few words. She and Teresa got up and walked down the stairs to the front. Chris talked about resurrection and life and thanked Las Abejas for their welcome. Then a little while later, the priest invited us all to sing for them! Of course, the invitation was in Spanish and suddenly Chris was telling us what they wanted and said, “This is really important and I forgot to tell you this might happen and what should we sing?” We quickly decided we would sing Lord Guide My Feet which we had sung the night before in worship. So, down we went again and arranged ourselves quickly. Chelsea led us as we sang. I found myself singing without self consciousness and with all my heart.
Dear reader, if you have ever been to a church that is unfamiliar to you, you know how it is to be paying close attention for what to do next. This is what we did as we participated in this service. I do not speak much Spanish (though I have found I remember more than I thought I did this week!) but I was able to pick up on a few things. But mainly we simply watched what the people were doing and we followed suit whether they were sitting or standing or kneeling. One time there was a prayer and we were on our knees. There was also music praying and I heard other voices around me. Chris leaned over and told us that this was a time that we could pray right out loud. So I began to do the same. I prayed for myself and for the people of Acteal and I cried, finding it to be quite a moving time of prayer.
Another invitation that surprised us, since it was a Catholic service, is that we were invited to partake in communion. We went forward to receive the host dipped in wine which was another holy, welcoming moment. After this, we were again invited down to the floor to join in another kind of prayer. Music was playing and the men of the community lined up in front of the altar adorned with a sea turtle and the cornstalk dais. The men began moving their feet with the music and we joined in. Tap, tap, tap, tap…feeling the earth under my feet I looked out over the wall to the beautiful green mountains. I felt connected to the earth and sky and the people around me. I thought of holy ground and community. I could see the brightly ribboned hats, wool clothing and leather sandals on the men in front of me. The music played and played, then stopped for only a breath, then played and played again. And again.
When the service came to a close we again followed the procession to the tomb below the church where the Acteal martyrs are buried. First we entered a muraled room and then down more steps to the actual tomb. The women went to the left and the men to the right. Again, we were on our knees praying aloud. The priest spoke words of life, and re-membering and resurrection. Vive Las Abejas! Vive visitors from the United States! Vive Jesus!
We had a light lunch along with us which we ate while we waited for an opportunity to speak with the leaders of the Las Abejas community. While doing so some of our group were able to engage in conversation with some young people from the community, including telling “Knock Knock” jokes. When it was time to meet with the community leaders we went into building and sat in chairs facing the leaders who were around a large table. We asked them to relay to us some history and asked questions about how the view themselves as pacifists. You can find out much more if you are interested by clicking on the link for Las Abejas. In this space I want to tell you about how amazing it was to listen to the leader talk about how Las Abejas are seeking justice for the wrong that has been done to their community with the massacre in 1997. They are suing individuals in the Mexican government, current and former, who they believe responsible for planning the attack. They are called the Intellectual Authors of the crime. The paramilitary who did the actual killing are named as Material Authors of the crime. Las Abejas want those who are guilty to go to jail. They will not be satisfied with a monetary settlement because “blood cannot be paid for with money.” What is amazing is that the reason Las Abejas want this justice is not for retaliation purposes. In fact they refuse to retaliate. They do not “trust in guns or believe in arms.” The surviving family and friends of Las Abejas are still in pain, but rather than revenge they want the law to be fulfilled. Las Abejas demand that the guilty pay so that they can then repent.
At this time the case is in the hands of the InterAmerican Court and they are waiting to see what will happen. This is a civil case and Las Abejas demand that the government admit to the truth. The government has held its own investigation, but Las Abejas do not think it is just that the accused be the one to judge the case.
Las Abejas explained that they are pacifists, but that does not mean that they will sit back quietly and take whatever comes. On the contrary, they will continue to struggle, using words to fight for justice. They know that the struggle will be long, but they will not stop speaking the truth about what happened in Acteal.
Dear reader, if you kept up with me this long, I thank you. It was such a wonderful, full day that I really wanted to share it with you before I went to bed. It is definitely now way past my bedtime! Fortunately, we have a later start tomorrow when we will visit the Museum of Mayan Medicine and go see the cloud forest reserve. Tonight we bid farewell to our beloved Teresa who has been with us for the entire trip thus far. She will fly back home to St. Paul tomorrow and we will now be guided by Hector for the remainder of our trip.