Ah Catholic mass. You’re not really in South America until you’ve attend church, right? At least that was my mindset as we decided to heed the call of the Sunday bells and file into the church with the rest of Cuellaje. The building was sort of how I remembered churches — quiet yet creaky, with a faint attic smell, and lots of religious accoutrements near the front where all the action takes place. As if on cue, community members took their seats, kneeling down on the wooden beams to acknowledge the holy trinity, and with creaking knees standing back up to park themselves on uncomfortable benches. This particular church didn’t cater to pampered American tushes, and went for the more bare-bones approach, sans cushion. Still I was excited to practice my Spanish and eventually be able to tell locals that while I wasn’t Catholic, I did attend mass recently. Dave, who has achieved most of the important Catholic milestones, was going to translate for me, because, apparently, all masses are delivered in more or less the same fashion.

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It was going along pretty well, and I was starting to see why so many people came to hear this guy talk. He was commanding! Plus, I realized how he conjures that air of importance: glasses! He was probably the first person we had encountered in Cuellaje who actually wore them. Intelegente indeed!

Then I started to pick up on a recurring word that the man in the purple robe kept using. Thrown in there with “ebarazada,” “niños” and “hijos” was “aborto.” When I listened in more closely — trying to decipher his words through the scratchy amp installed overhead — I realized he was telling the citizens of Cuellaje that all pregnancies were the will of God. I had to stifle a scoff. I looked around for some sympathetic agreement, but only received brief acknowledgement from elementary school boys who were falling asleep in their pews.

The priest went on to say he liked this community because families had eight, nine, 11 children. It was great! Babies a plenty. Not like that disgraceful Brazil, which handed out condoms during the Carnival parade. For shame. His sentiments, bathed in judgment, I’m sure didn’t fail to deliver a healthy dose of guilt throughout the church.

I knew my views were really in the minority when he surveyed the crowd, asking for expecting mothers to raise their hands. Four soon-to-be moms sheepishly raised their hands and were then asked to come to the front of the church to get some holy water poured on their foreheads. Each woman was my age or younger — and there’s plenty of time left on my biological clock, no rushing here. As they dispersed back to their pews, I had to suppress a laugh as I read one of the women’s shirts. It had the word “sexy” scrawled across it in coquettish pink script.

March 23, 2014