Chamula: The Festival of San Sebastian

Hola, queridas!

Our visit to Chamula was several days ago now (Fri), but many of the images I saw there are still running through my mind. This is a very special event for the people of Chamula, and the celebration lasts for several days with the peak on the day we were visiting. This day, many children were baptized, and I noticed that just like in the United States it was a time of great joy for the families and and many tears for the babies.  :)  Inside the chapel, I experienced a sensory overload. The floor is covered with pine needles — a ritual that brings the people closer to the earth — a source of holiness and energy. The air is filled with the smoke and strong scent of Copal (a common incense used in Chiapas). There are many people packed into the church — some standing in lines facing the altar praying out loud their individual prayers. Some formed in groups around the Statues of the Saints that line the church — caring for and honoring them. Some people moving towards the front of the church where San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist) resides. Along the left side of the church, the male saints stand, representing the masculine energy. Along the right side of the church, the female saints stand, representing the female energy and leading to the area where children are baptized. Candles were burning throughout the sanctuary, some in glass containers on the floor and on tables, some placed directly on the floor and secured with melted wax. Musicians occasionally played their instruments in a seemingly random fashion. Then the procession began …

Saints were removed from their glass cases and hoisted up on carrying platforms. People chosen from their communities to serve different roles in the celebration took action — musicians, flag bearers, one person behind each flag bearer designated to wipe the sweat from the brows of the flag bearers, people carrying incense, the priest carrying the sacred elements, people who stayed ahead of the procession and scattered pine needles on the ground, and more. Fireworks exploded It was a bustle of celebration, worship and community. As the left the church, they turned to the right and processed around the square 3 times and then back int0 the church. The saints were returned to their cases, and their faces were wiped with the cloths that has wiped the brows of the flag bearers.

Several of the people in our group were very moved by the experience. For one, it was a spiritual healing. For another, in was an awareness that “this is my tradition, I need to stop observing and start praying.” For another, it was a sense of tremendous gratitude that Father Pedro would take time to welcome us and speak to us for a short time in the midst of so much happening. Some people in the group felt “big,” “conspicuous,” or “in the way.” Several noted the pale images of Christ and the Saints as a sharp contrast to the dark skin and hair of the people who were worshipping here. I’m sure there were many other reactions and insights, but these are the ones I recall these several days later.

Today is Monday, and there is a growing awareness that our time in Chiapas is growing short. We have learned so much about Chiapas and the people here; our community has grown closer each day, and our solidarity with the indigenous people of Chiapas grows stronger each day. I want to see and do as much as I can in the little time we have left, yet I long for the familiarity of home and the relationships there that sustain me. Thank you for the comments you have shared with us! It means so much to hear from you and helps us to stay connected.

En Paz del Senor,
Amy

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3 thoughts on “Chamula: The Festival of San Sebastian

  1. God’s blessings to all of you on the rest of your journey there. The things you have been writing about remind me of the trip to El Salvador. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!! These global justice trips are awesome. Thanks, Chris for all you do to make these trips happen!!

    Donna Olsen

  2. Its been so interesting and inspiring to follow your journey. Can’t wait to see many of you when you return to classes in February! Blessings on your final days and safe travel on your way home.

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