On Palm Sunday we headed south to the Province of Solola to visit the parish of San Lucas, Toliman.
The winding hillside road just outside of Toliman was blocked by buses. The buses were transportation for teenagers at a regional retreat at San Lucas Toliman. Parish officials estimated that there were over 2000 youngsters from the region attending.
When we arrived at the parish of San Lucas we were invited to dinner in the parish hall. We met two young women who volunteered at the parish. They talked about the massive retreat that we encountered in terms that the ‘evangelists’ would use. One, who graduated from the conservative Roman Catholic Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, was director of volunteers for the many parish projects. San Lucas had not experienced the devastation we saw in El Quiche, Espiritu Santo.
The moving force behind the outreach of the parish was a priest from New Ulm, Minnesota, Gregg Schaffer. He had remained neutral during the civil war, but had contacts in the government and was alerted when people in the San Lucas area were targeted. “Father Gregg saved many lives by warning people of the government’s intentions,” we were told. Among many projects as a priest at San Lucas, he established a medical clinic, a school, a coffee project, a women’s center, and a reforestation center. He asked his parishioners, what do you need? Then he went to work. Schaffer questioned financially desperate coffee growers how much they needed for their coffee in order to survive. They told him, and he established a coffee cooperative to pay the requested prices to the growers. When peasants were thrown off the land, he bought large tracts of land for them to farm. A baby died in his arms and he responded by establishing a medical clinic. Financial support came from pleas to faithful funders in the Minneapolis area. Schaffer was a priest well versed in other world theology, but was basically a Minnesota pragmatist with a strong sense of survival and social justice.
Gregg Schaffer died in 2012 after almost 50 years of ministry in Guatemala. At San Lucas they are not sure that the projects he started will continue without him.
We let it go and looked at the float they were preparing. The float was almost as wide as the middle aisle and about 15 ft. long. At the head of the float was a large triangle (the trinity) with the ‘eye of God’ in the center. At the rear was a boat carrying Jesus and companions, perhaps a reference to the storm on the lake. (Matthew 8:23-27) I did not want to strain the good will of the people by asking more questions, but I wondered if ‘the eye’ meant that God knew about the genocide.
The preaching in the Christian churches presents the Gospels as historical and confuses the mythical – theological with history. The Holy Week processions in Guatemala seemed to do the same, but there is a difference in Faith and faith or belief in myth. Scripture scholar, Jerome Murphy O’Connor, said the New Testament writers were not historians, but theologians who presented an understanding of Faith to particular audiences with their stories of Jesus. The accounts of the passion of Jesus differ and attempt to portrait who Jesus was and his mission. If the passion stories have the character of a myth, what value do they have? It could it be destructive; for example a cause of the holocaust.
Since Vatican II Holy Week processions and passion plays have been carefully crafted not to portray the Jews as the executors of Jesus. In the Holy Week ceremonies in Guatemala I did not see anything that characterized the Jews as the killers of Jesus.
Rudolph Bultman and his German colleagues debated the issue of the New Testament as myth during World War II and immediately after the war. In the series of essays, Kerygma and Myth, (Edited by Hans Werner Barisch, Harper, New York, 1961) the war and the holocaust are not mentioned. Bultman’s original essay in German was published in 1941. For Bultman, Faith is an existential affirmation that Jesus is Lord and requires radical commitment to the Lord. Faith, according to Bultman, is between the Lord and me.
Holy Week in Guatemala prompted me to ask: is Holy Week there portraying Jesus’ passion and resurrection as historical fact, a myth to be believed?... or simply quaint pageantry for diversion?... or something more?
Next Posting: Santiago Atitlan, Rev. Stan Rother – Martyr, The Peace Park.